Blowin’ In The Wind: An American Folk Revival Essay

‘There ain’t too much I say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in a book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind-and its blowing in the wind.’ On July 9th 1962, a 21-year-old Bob Dylan sat down and recorded a song that would be frontier of the civil rights movement. A draft of the song was first performed at Gerde’s Folk Cuty on April 16th, 1962 and was only two verses long.

The song represented a moment of pacifism in the time of the Cuba Blockade and growth of nuclear weaponry. The Missile crisis of Cuba heightened confrontation between the U.S and the Soviet Union; one of the most threatening crises of the cold war, perhaps the closest that the two counties came to a nuclear war.


Guthrie’s Autobiography, Bound for glory

Pulling inspiration from not only the folk scene’s own, Woody Guthrie (whose autobiography, Bound for Glory, Dylan had read only shortly prior to writing the song. Guthrie had compared his political sensibility to newspapers blowing in the winds of New York city streets and alleys in the book.), but also from the Old Testament’s Book of Ezekiel (12:1-2);’The word of the lord came to me; Oh mortal, you dwell among the rebellious breed. They have eyes to see by see not; ears to hear, but hear not.’ For Dylan, this adapted into ‘Yese’n’ how many ears must one man have? And yese’n’ how many times must a man turn his head/pretending he just doesn’t see?’.

The melody of the song is also an adaptation of an old African-American spiritual No more auction block, which originated in Canada; sung by former slaves who fled there after Britain abolished slavery in 1933.  Dylan performed No more auction block as the Gaslight café in October 1962.

May 1962, in the sixth issue of Broadside, a magazine founded by Pete Seeger and devoted to topical songs, published the song. However, while Dylan’s songs explored politics, sociology, and philosophy, his political profile had not yet become public, and when asked about the messages in his songs he would usually attempt to advert the question to a different topic. It wasn’t until May of the following year that Dylan became publicly political; walking out of The Ed Sullivan show, when refusing to comply with censorship with ‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’. But for many others, Dylan was already a social political figure for them and an influence in the civil right movement.


Mavis Staples

In Martin Scorsese’s documentary on the singer-songwriter, No Direction Home, Mavis Staples expresses her amazement on first hearing Blowin in the wind. She could not fathom how a young, white man could write something that captured the frustration and aspirations of black people so powerfully. Sam Cooke was similarly, deeply impressed by the song; incorporating it into his repertoire close to its release (included on Sam Cooke at the Copa), and counting the song as one of the many inspiring factors to write A change is gonna come.

Released as a single from Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) album and the song continued to make appearances on other’s albums such as Peter, Paul, and Mary’s album In the wind (1963), and Dolly Parton’s Those were the days (2005). In 1975 the song was even included as poetry in a Sri Lanka high school English textbook; replacing Shakespeare.

Blowin in the wind can be applied to any oppression and struggle on the road to freedom. The song was resurrected during protests of the Iraq war in 2002, 39 years after its release, which questions the true meaning of ‘the answer is blowin in the wind’; either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is an intangible as the wind.

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