March Group Writing: Blowin’ Our Heritage

 

Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind (1962) captures a lot of what’s wrong with an entire generation (mine, mea culpa) and our dysfunctional ideological legacy.  Bob Dylan had a gift for faux profundity.  His work has been repeatedly explored by academics and even got him a Nobel Prize.  Not being profound myself, I have found a lot of his oeuvre to be contrived, banal and preachy.

Here is the artist in his own words at age 56:

Here’s the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else. Songs like “Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain” or “I Saw the Light”—that’s my religion. I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I’ve learned more from the songs than I’ve learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.

Deep. Too bad there is no Nobel Prize for theology.

But now to the song itself (lyrics reprinted at the end of the post for ready reference).

How many times must the cannonballs fly.… Unlike every other generation in every other place on the planet, Our Generation understood that war is harmful and bad.  Our insight in that regard was astounding—to us anyway. The solution, as we conceived it, was not characterological, nor did it require a spiritual conversion—it was merely cognitive.  The act of thinking that war is bad is itself the solution whose implementation merely awaits the assent of stupid people, thus the answer is blowin’ in the wind until the obvious can be grasped by all, not just by the enlightened.

How many seas must the white dove sail… Presumably, the white dove symbolizes peace (Here we pause to savor how original, poetic, and deep is this symbolism.). The dove (Peace) is looking for a home but why it is out over the ocean or why it would want to sleep in the sand is a mystery.  I am not aware of any of the 300-some species of doves and pigeons in the entire Columbidae family that are pelagic or that would nest in the sand.  A few build nests on the forest floor but most are sensible enough to nest in trees or on rocky ledges. But I digress.   Most likely Mr. Dylan just needed a word to rhyme with “banned” and once he decided on “sand” that selection induced images of a nearby ocean (that is, if we dare to speculate on the methods of a creative mind awarded the Nobel Prize).

And how many years can some people exist / Before they’re allowed to be free? It is noteworthy that freedom in the song seems to be defined as a set of permissions rather than a state achieved and defended by those who demand it.  Freedom is just a matter of goodwill on the part of the powerful.  It has been a defining trait of Our Generation that all good things would spring from our enlightened foreheads once we were in charge. Today, a perverse variant of that outlook is a foundational concept for Wokeness.

If I could inject a dissident thought here: maybe in some instances if the cannonballs were to fly a few more times, the oppressor would lessen his grip.  When the outer redoubts were taken at Yorktown thus allowing Washington to move his artillery forward, the prospect of those French and  American cannonballs flying at close range was the proximate cause of Cornwallis’ surrender and the beginning of an unprecedented worldwide trend toward democracy and freedom. But, again, I digress.

How many ears…how many times can a man turn his head… We are in full folk song preachiness mode here all coming down to the age-old complaint of narcissists in every era: Why can’t They be as enlightened as we?  And I do not really get why a man cannot see the sky except that Dylan needed a word to rhyme with “cry” in the next verse.  But again, who are we to presume to understand the deep creative process at work here.

Aside from being largely comprised of mediocre verse, Blowin’ in the Wind  reflects three tiresome, inter-related but pernicious themes that began to openly infest our society in the 1960s:

The Illusion of Autonomy.  Most people in most places in most eras regard themselves as members of their culture/tribe/religion/country of origin. By the 1960s, teens were encouraged to believe that someday soon none of those ancient things would have any moral claim on our personal loyalties or identity because You can Be Anything You Choose to Be and The Future will not contain any of the bad stuff from the past because we are the ones who will build it.

It was an old gnostic delusion, returned in full force, transcendent beings struggling to escape the snares that bind them to corrupted temporal reality. We were exhorted invited to resist the pulls from old habits of mind that would drag us down into the same unenlightened reality that swallowed up our parents whose generation found itself merely on one side of the last war instead of transcending it as Our Generation would.

Intellectual superiority as moral justification. The conspicuously unenlightened Martin Luther King once said we should be judged on the “content of our character” when he should have said “the percentile of our SAT scores” or “the ranking of the school(s) that issued our diplomas” or “the political correctness of our social media content.”  Issues of war and peace and social justice invariably involve tough trade-offs and tests of individual and societal character. Such challenges are never reducible to striking the right rhetorical stance or holding a nominally better set of opinions.  Justification by zeitgeist alone is not just ineffective, it is personally deformative and delusional.

The seductive thing about a moral system based entirely on degrees of victimhood is that there is no personal guilt, no personal sins.  Membership in the transgressor class or victim class in any given moment is all just kabuki in which pre-defined gestures suffice.  There is no actual moral pain from awareness of actual personal transgression.  Or at least there is not supposed to be.

An entire generation forced to read Catcher in The Rye, whose protagonist (that annoying, self-absorbed preppy twit Holden Caulfield) is obsessed with the rejection of “phony” behavior (which includes adherence to conventional norms and expectations whether done sincerely or not) has inexplicably spawned a moral cult (wokeness) that is entirely artificial, vile yet silly, and so lacking in any connection to facts, history or reality that sincerity has no purchase.

The Big Empty /Acedia.  In its fullest sense, “acedia” means the state of being in which one decides there is nothing in life worth affirming.  This can either take the form of dropping out (drugs, indolence, despair) or hyperactive work and play both to ward off reflection and to acquire the transient pleasures used to stave off an always looming horror vacui.  The consistent theme in such lives is that none of one’s thoughts or actions are connected to anything transcendently important.

One of the great things about almost every culture in the entirety of human history is that it gives the individual a starting point and a context in which to find meaning.  A successful escape from or destruction of cultural heritage means facing the same questions, doubts, and fears as are presented to every other human being but without the benefit of the distilled experience of many generations and the comfort that we are not alone in trying to make sense of it all.

That narcissistic cocktail mixed a half-century ago has devolved into the deeply pathetic struggle to escape “whiteness” combined with an unearned yet fiercely asserted moral authority to build a world which is decidedly pointless, cut off from everything not derived from its own silly ideological effluvia.

The wind is still blowin’ hard but contains no answers.  We have struck the pose, assumed the role, passed judgment on the past yet the world gets worse and reality chooses to disobey.  That man on the road now has no gender.  The dove cannot be white must less sleep.  The cannonballs still fly and in lieu of freedom, we must see, hear and believe what we are told.  The answer, my friend, is that we stopped asking the right questions.  The right questions are our real heritage, not the answers.

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, and how many years must a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
And how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
And how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

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  1. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Well done. I usually think of Imagine as the go-to song for emptiness-on-a-pedestal, but you’ve found a less obvious and even better example.

    • #1
  2. Dotorimuk Coolidge
    Dotorimuk
    @Dotorimuk

    Every Grain of Sand

    Bob Dylan

    In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
    When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
    There’s a dying voice within me reaching out somewhere
    Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair

    Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
    Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
    In the fury of the moment I can see the master’s hand
    In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

    Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
    Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
    The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
    To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay

    I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
    And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
    Then onward in my journey I come to understand
    That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

    I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
    In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
    In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
    In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

    I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
    Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other time it’s only me
    I am hanging in the balance of a finished plan
    Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

    • #2
  3. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Dotorimuk (View Comment):

    When I was in law school, by the last year I was working as a paralegal almost full time with a mix of day and night classes. On the Metro ride home sometimes pretty late, I stopped reading textbooks and started bringing poetry to read. There must have been some overload on one part of my brain that created appetites I did not have before. I came to focus almost exclusively on Yeats and Walt Whitman. The former for the power of his imagery and sheer artistry and the latter for the energy and emotion. 
    The thing about great poetry is that it is not just an alternative way of delivering a prosaic statement. It is not reducible to translation because there is an experience other than and bigger than a linear message.

    I loathe intentional ambiguity and hackneyed themes. Every Grain of Sand was definitely a cut above his work product in the 1960s and done during, and clearly inspired by his few years as a born-again Christian, which belief he dumped in favor of a rather stale aesthetic, an act that belies the reach for depth in this piece.

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    A powerful post, OB. I’ve never seen the song that way, although I never much cared for Bob Dylan, either. I refuse to see myself living in a nihilistic world. There is too much beauty and too much to be grateful for. I guess others prefer being miserable and hopeless. Thanks

    • #4
  5. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    I should probably just save it for my group writing commitment on 3/29, but I have a lot to say in response.  I won’t defend Blowin’ in the Wind as a great work (although I couldn’t have done it and I think it’s good for what it is) but I will defend to the hilt Dylan’s artistry, his impact, the Nobel Prize, etc…  He’s been prolific, so obviously not everything is great (or even good), but he has created some true masterpieces that have had a tremendous impact on music and culture.  Not only that, but the themes in his songs are very diverse over the decades; you can’t pigeonhole the guy.  But an artist can’t have the impact he’s had with “intentional ambiguity and hackneyed themes” or “faux profundity.”  You have that impact because you inspire people, reach people.  Not everybody, obviously.  I’m not saying everyone will love it, but even if you don’t like it, you ought to respect the fact that a lot of people do.

    I hope to have more time later today or this evening to get back into the discussion.

     

     

    • #5
  6. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    Dotorimuk (View Comment):

    Every Grain of Sand

    Bob Dylan

    ….

    I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
    In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
    In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
    In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

    I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
    Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other time it’s only me
    I am hanging in the balance of a finished plan
    Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

    These lines are just incredible.  It’s hard to appreciate them fully without the music and the longing way he sings them, but man, even written down with no sound they have a lot of power.  The regret, the doubt, the faint hope and faith…wonderful.   A lot of Dylan’s songs echo Ecclesiastes, at least for me, and this is certainly one of them.

    • #6
  7. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    I should probably just save it for my group writing commitment on 3/29, but I have a lot to say in response. I won’t defend Blowin’ in the Wind as a great work (although I couldn’t have done it and I think it’s good for what it is) but I will defend to the hilt Dylan’s artistry, his impact, the Nobel Prize, etc… He’s been prolific, so obviously not everything is great (or even good), but he has created some true masterpieces that have had a tremendous impact on music and culture. Not only that, but the themes in his songs are very diverse over the decades; you can’t pigeonhole the guy. But an artist can’t have the impact he’s had with “intentional ambiguity and hackneyed themes” or “faux profundity.” You have that impact because you inspire people, reach people. Not everybody, obviously. I’m not saying everyone will love it, but even if you don’t like it, you ought to respect the fact that a lot of people do.

    I hope to have more time later today or this evening to get back into the discussion.

     

     

    De gustibus non est disputandum!

    I have no quibble with Dylan as a songwriter or entertainer. I do object to the over-interpretations and projections done by some of his admirers and I really hate this song.

    • #7
  8. Caltory Thatcher
    Caltory
    @Caltory

    As a long-time Dylan fan (I can still almost hear Like a Rolling Stone blaring through the Vibrasonic of my ’65 Pontiac Goat) my first inclination is to defend his songwriting. I concede, though, that you have a solid argument regarding the triviality of Blowin’ in the Wind. When the song first came out, its revealing banality was even surpassed by the slobbering insistence that it be taken seriously by performers who covered it. (Judy Collins & PP&M pop to mind.) I’ll still stick with Imagine as the ultimate in Boomer thoughtlessness, with Dylan’s Masters of War a close runner up. Blowin’ In the Wind certainly gets an honorable mention in a highly populated field.

    • #8
  9. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Being wholly unmusical, I don’t have a dog in this fight, at least not in any artistic sense. I dislike Imagine because I think it has an almost primal evil quality to it: it’s a nihilistic song that responds to the imperfection of human nature by imagining how nice it would be if we were all castrated.

    But Blowin’ in the Wind better represents the ascendant spirit of our times, which is more self-congratulatory ahistoricism than evil. It doesn’t imagine how much better it would be if we were less than human. It simply pretends that no one else is as smart as its audience, or ever has been.

    It’s a very Google kind of song.

    • #9
  10. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Good take-down of a sappy song, OB.

    I have two comments about the song, which I don’t think have been specifically covered so far.

    1. How many times must the cannonballs fly, before they’re forever banned

    I never cease to be amazed by the cluelessness of this attitude.  How, precisely, do you “ban” something without an enforcement mechanism?  The enforcement mechanism is force.  This seems pretty obvious to me, and is literally built into the word “enforcement.”

    Like so many things about Leftist ideology, the sentiment of this line seems like the sort of thing that a moderately bright middle-school child would immediately recognize as unworkable.

    2. How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry

    This one is really arrogant.  The singer seems to assume that people who oppose his ideas about how to ameliorate the suffering of the world — ideas which are generally naive and unworkable — are simply callous and uncaring.

    • #10
  11. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Old Bathos: Bob Dylan had a gift for faux profundity. His work has been repeatedly explored by academics and even got him a Nobel Prize. Not being profound myself, I have found a lot of his oeuvre to be contrived, banal and preachy.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    • #11
  12. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    De gustibus non est disputandum!

    I have no quibble with Dylan as a songwriter or entertainer. I do object to the over-interpretations and projections done by some of his admirers and I really hate this song.

    It seems that one of the chief roles of a 21-year-old singer-songwriter was to wax profound and do so painfully, particularly in the nascent stages of the ’60s social justice movement.  I can’t hold that against a kid from the sticks of Minnesota getting a taste of Greenwich Village.  Over time, I’m reasonably convinced that Dylan has shown himself to be one of the least pompous and most talented of his ilk, and he seems likely to be unimpressed by the pompous interpretations given by others to some of his work.   Then there’s:

    ‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
    When blackness was a virtue the road was full of mud
    I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
    “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

    And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
    I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
    In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm.
    “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

    • #12
  13. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: Bob Dylan had a gift for faux profundity. His work has been repeatedly explored by academics and even got him a Nobel Prize. Not being profound myself, I have found a lot of his oeuvre to be contrived, banal and preachy.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    On the plus side, Rainy Day Women was one of the best drinking songs we had during my Army days in Nam (1966-67).

    • #13
  14. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    Don’t care for Blowin’ in the Wind, but a couple of points about Dylan.

    The song is from 1962.  The lines And how many years can some people exist / Before they’re allowed to be free? aren’t just abstract but sung in the context of a time when black Americans were struggling to be free and being met with violence and that’s how those words were understood at the time.

    Dylan is often miscast as a “protest” or “anti-Vietnam war” singer.  His political songs all date from the earliest part of his career (1961-64) and all of them pre-date America’s involvement in Vietnam (I don’t think he ever even spoke publicly about the war).  For more than a half-century he has stayed away from overtly political songs (with only a couple of exceptions – Hurricane comes to mind).  Since the mid-60s he’s stated many times he rejected the idea he was “the voice of a generation” and said he just wanted to make music.  As he later sang:

    People are crazy, Times are strange

    I’m locked up tight, I’m out of rage

    I used to care, But things have changed

    • #14
  15. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    Don’t care for Blowin’ in the Wind, but a couple of points about Dylan.

    The song is from 1962. The lines And how many years can some people exist / Before they’re allowed to be free? aren’t just abstract but sung in the context of a time when black Americans were struggling to be free and being met with violence and that’s how those words were understood at the time.

    Dylan is often miscast as a “protest” or “anti-Vietnam war” singer. His political songs all date from the earliest part of his career (1961-64) and all of them pre-date America’s involvement in Vietnam (I don’t think he ever even spoke publicly about the war). For more than a half-century he has stayed away from overtly political songs (with only a couple of exceptions – Hurricane comes to mind). Since the mid-60s he’s stated many times he rejected the idea he was “the voice of a generation” and said he just wanted to make music.

    It was interesting to see his inclusion in Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary.  Evidently Dylan and Johnny Cash were kindred spirits, at least, musically.

    • #15
  16. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    Don’t care for Blowin’ in the Wind, but a couple of points about Dylan.

    The song is from 1962. The lines And how many years can some people exist / Before they’re allowed to be free? aren’t just abstract but sung in the context of a time when black Americans were struggling to be free and being met with violence and that’s how those words were understood at the time.

    Dylan is often miscast as a “protest” or “anti-Vietnam war” singer. His political songs all date from the earliest part of his career (1961-64) and all of them pre-date America’s involvement in Vietnam (I don’t think he ever even spoke publicly about the war). For more than a half-century he has stayed away from overtly political songs (with only a couple of exceptions – Hurricane comes to mind). Since the mid-60s he’s stated many times he rejected the idea he was “the voice of a generation” and said he just wanted to make music.

    It was interesting to see his inclusion in Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary. Evidently Dylan and Johnny Cash were kindred spirits, at least, musically.

    It was a big deal when Johnny Cash had his TV show and persuaded Dylan (who had not appeared publicly in a couple of years) to appear and play with him.  After Dylan escaped from the public eye for awhile in the mid-60s his first albums were John Wesley Harding (definitely non-political) and Nashville Skyline, an album of country flavored songs.

    • #16
  17. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Old Bathos: How many roads must a man walk down

    42.

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Old Bathos: An entire generation forced to read Catcher in The Rye, whose protagonist (that annoying, self-absorbed preppy twit Holden Caulfield) is obsessed with rejection of “phony” behavior (which includes adherence to conventional norms and expectations whether done sincerely or not) has inexplicably spawned a moral cult (wokeness) that is entirely artificial, vile yet silly, and so lacking in any connection to fact, history or reality that sincerity has no purchase.

    I’m a boomer and I’ve never read it. Nobody ever gave me a reason to. 

    • #18
  19. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: An entire generation forced to read Catcher in The Rye, whose protagonist (that annoying, self-absorbed preppy twit Holden Caulfield) is obsessed with rejection of “phony” behavior (which includes adherence to conventional norms and expectations whether done sincerely or not) has inexplicably spawned a moral cult (wokeness) that is entirely artificial, vile yet silly, and so lacking in any connection to fact, history or reality that sincerity has no purchase.

    I’m a boomer and I’ve never read it. Nobody ever gave me a reason to.

    I liked it. There was a brief period — between Nabokov and Roth — when Salinger was my favorite author.

    • #19
  20. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    With my above disclaimer in mind that I don’t think it’s a great song, I feel the need to say something in defense of Blowin in the Wind.

    Of particular concern is placing it in the same category as John Lennon’s awful Imagine.

    Now I agree both songs have gotten the attention of naive lefty idealists, but Imagine is the only one of the two that really espouses such dreck.  According to Imagine, if only everyone would join together and share the idealism with the dreamers, “the world will live as one.” Gross.

    The Blowin in the Wind narrator, by contrast, is not such a fool. That song is a lament. The narrator longs for peace, longs for justice and freedom, longs to know the truth about the universe and man’s place in it. But he knows human beings will never have the answers.  Those answers are blowing in the wind – untouchable, uncatchable, invisible. This is a song that recognizes the fallen nature of man and sees no solution.  This is a conservative truth. This is the same thing we lament all the time.

    The wind in this song is more like the futile “chasing after the wind” metaphor  in Ecclesiastes. This is a song, ultimately about longing for truth, and though it doesn’t mention it explicitly, longing for God.

    That’s a theme you will find in many many Dylan’s songs. I don’t think he’s kidding when he talks about finding religion in music and I don’t think that quote is some vapid shallow celebrity theology. He seems to take God very seriously – in his music anyway, and not just the explicitly religious ones like Every Grain of Sand.

    • #20
  21. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    With my above disclaimer in mind that I don’t think it’s a great song, I feel the need to say something in defense of Blowin in the Wind.

    Of particular concern is placing it in the same category as John Lennon’s awful Imagine.

    Now I agree both songs have gotten the attention of naive lefty idealists, but Imagine is the only one of the two that really espouses such dreck. According to Imagine, if only everyone would join together and share the idealism with the dreamers, “the world will live as one.” Gross.

    The Blowin in the Wind narrator, by contrast, is not such a fool. That song is a lament. The narrator longs for peace, longs for justice and freedom, longs to know the truth about the universe and man’s place in it. But he knows human beings will never have the answers. Those answers are blowing in the wind – untouchable, uncatchable, invisible. This is a song that recognizes the fallen nature of man and sees no solution. This is a conservative truth. This is the same thing we lament all the time.

    The wind in this song is more like the futile “chasing after the wind” metaphor in Ecclesiastes. This is a song, ultimately about longing for truth, and though it doesn’t mention it explicitly, longing for God.

    That’s a theme you will find in many many Dylan’s songs. I don’t think he’s kidding when he talks about finding religion in music and I don’t think that quote is some vapid shallow celebrity theology. He seems to take God very seriously – in his music anyway, and not just the explicitly religious ones like Every Grain of Sand.

    OK, Boomer.

    • #21
  22. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    Don’t care for Blowin’ in the Wind, but a couple of points about Dylan.

    Since the mid-60s he’s stated many times he rejected the idea he was “the voice of a generation” and said he just wanted to make music. As he later sang:

    People are crazy, Times are strange

    I’m locked up tight, I’m out of rage

    I used to care, But things have changed

    True.  I think of My Back Pages as his clearest farewell to the lefty protest scene.  The song admits that being young and full of fire is a lot like being old and stubborn.  At some point, he realized things may be more complicated, more nuanced than the thought when he was younger and full of fire, and he learned to lighten up and take a wiser approach to the world:

    Crimson flames tied through my ears
    Rolling high and mighty traps
    Pounced with fire on flaming roads
    Using ideas as my maps
    “We’ll meet on edges, soon, ” said I
    Proud ‘neath heated brow
    Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

    Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, “Rip down all hate, ” I screamed
    Lies that life is black and white
    Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
    Romantic facts of musketeers
    Foundationed deep, somehow
    Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

    Girls’ faces formed the forward path
    From phony jealousy
    To memorizing politics of ancient history
    Flung down by corpse evangelists
    Unthought of, though, somehow
    Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

    A self-ordained professor’s tongue, too serious to fool
    Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
    “Equality, ” I spoke the word
    As if a wedding vow
    Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

    In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand at the mongrel dogs who teach
    Fearing not I’d become my enemy
    In the instant that I preach
    My existence led by confusion boats
    Mutiny from stern to bow
    Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

    Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
    Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect
    “Good” and “bad,” I defined these terms
    Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
    Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

    • #22
  23. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    Old Bathos:

    The Big Empty /Acedia. In its fullest sense, “acedia” means the state of being in which one decides there is nothing in life worth affirming. This can either take the form of dropping out (drugs, indolence, despair) or hyperactive work and play both to ward off reflection and to acquire the transient pleasures used to stave off an always looming horror vacui. The consistent theme in such lives is that none of one’s thoughts or actions are connected to anything transcendently important.

    One of the great things about almost every culture in the entirety of human history is that it gives the individual a starting point and a context in which to find meaning. A successful escape from or destruction of cultural heritage means facing the same questions, doubts, and fears as are presented to every other human being but without the benefit of the distilled experience of many generations and the comfort that we are not alone in trying to make sense of it all.

     

    I think Dylan is the wrong guy to illustrate the ’60’s era attempt to escape the bonds of our cultural heritage (which I agree deserves criticism).  To the contrary, Dylan’s songs are filled with references and nods to western culture and literature – the Bible, Shakespeare, and tons of other writers and artists.  Same themes, too.  He’s part and parcel of that culture and tradition, not opposed to it.  It’s definitely true that he has a lot of criticism for certain centers of power, hypocrisies and injustices  – but his criticism is not a rejection of western culture, but rather indictments for violating the morals of western culture. His criticisms and lamentations are not atheistic or materialistic or nihilistic.  He seems to believe, rather, that objective truth and meaning exist; they’re just elusive.

    I can’t think, off the top of my head, of any song of his in which he advocates some version of finding your own truth, or that you can define your own meaning in the universe, or any of that self-worshipping stuff.  Like a Rolling Stone is a great example of how he does just the opposite of that.  The protagonist of that song sets off on her own, rejects her solid foundation, ignores the warnings of those who care about her, and finds nothing but despair and emptiness.  “You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal.  How does it feel?”  It’s always been hilarious to me that one of the most celebrated Rock ‘n Roll songs has a theme which could almost be boiled down to, “You should have listened to your parents.”

     

    • #23
  24. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Old Bathos,

    Great Post !

    Your Bob Dylan quote indicates to me that music was an intense, maybe like a religious, experience for 56 year old Bob Dylan. That, in turn, reminds me of a scene in a novel I’m half way through.

    The novel is “Eddie and the Cruisers” by P.F. Kluge.
    In it, there’s an obscure and shy English teacher with a secret past of having once been, for a year but especially over one summer, the song writer and one of the singers in a rock band. This teacher starts hearing his old songs repeatedly played on the radio. His students love them, especially the song “Far-Away Woman”. The teacher reflects…..

    “”To think that after a dozen years of inflicting great literature on captive juveniles, after all the recitation and discussing and testing—-“Thanatopsis” and “Oh Captain, My Captain”—-my big breakthrough might be the casual product of a long-ago summer: “Far-Away Woman”! Suddenly, I was part of my students’ lives. By accident, I’d connected. Where they drove, or danced, or copulated, my words followed them, my voice singing in the background. And they didn’t know it.””

    Your post and the novel has me thinking two things….

    (1) We conservatives are famous for expressing the truth in the most joyless, most unnecessarily off-putting way. We’re the scolds. It’s always the left that focuses on instilling its outlook in the most seductive and non-confrontational way. We need to change that because, as someone once said in response to Ben Shapiro: “feelings don’t care about your facts.”

    (2) Kluge implies with this character that, in order to be effective in the popular culture, it’s very helpful to know a lot more than the popular culture. The English teacher, as a kid, was a good wordsmith for the band’s songs, in part because he had a certain talent for it but also because he had read a lot of poetry. His knowledge base enabled him to write better lyrics in the same way that Stephen King’s background in literature, as well as his talent, once enabled him to write novels a lot of us couldn’t put down.

    • #24
  25. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    Old Bathos:

    The Big Empty /Acedia. In its fullest sense, “acedia” means the state of being in which one decides there is nothing in life worth affirming. This can either take the form of dropping out (drugs, indolence, despair) or hyperactive work and play both to ward off reflection and to acquire the transient pleasures used to stave off an always looming horror vacui. The consistent theme in such lives is that none of one’s thoughts or actions are connected to anything transcendently important.

    One of the great things about almost every culture in the entirety of human history is that it gives the individual a starting point and a context in which to find meaning. A successful escape from or destruction of cultural heritage means facing the same questions, doubts, and fears as are presented to every other human being but without the benefit of the distilled experience of many generations and the comfort that we are not alone in trying to make sense of it all.

    I think Dylan is the wrong guy to illustrate the ’60’s era attempt to escape the bonds of our cultural heritage (which I agree deserves criticism). To the contrary, Dylan’s songs are filled with references and nods to western culture and literature – the Bible, Shakespeare, and tons of other writers and artists. Same themes, too. He’s part and parcel of that culture and tradition, not opposed to it. It’s definitely true that he has a lot of criticism for certain centers of power, hypocrisies and injustices – but his criticism is not a rejection of western culture, but rather indictments for violating the morals of western culture. His criticisms and lamentations are not atheistic or materialistic or nihilistic. He seems to believe, rather, that objective truth and meaning exist; they’re just elusive.

    I can’t think, off the top of my head, of any song of his in which he advocates some version of finding your own truth, or that you can define your own meaning in the universe, or any of that self-worshipping stuff. Like a Rolling Stone is a great example of how he does just the opposite of that. The protagonist of that song sets off on her own, rejects her solid foundation, ignores the warnings of those who care about her, and finds nothing but despair and emptiness. “You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal. How does it feel?” It’s always been hilarious to me that one of the most celebrated Rock ‘n Roll songs has a theme which could almost be boiled down to, “You should have listened to your parents.”

    “Like a Rolling Stone” is one of the only two or three songs of his that I like. I also like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Shelter from the Storm”.

    • #25
  26. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    De gustibus non est disputandum!

    I have no quibble with Dylan as a songwriter or entertainer. I do object to the over-interpretations and projections done by some of his admirers and I really hate this song.

    It seems that one of the chief roles of a 21-year-old singer-songwriter was to wax profound and do so painfully, particularly in the nascent stages of the ’60s social justice movement. I can’t hold that against a kid from the sticks of Minnesota getting a taste of Greenwich Village. Over time, I’m reasonably convinced that Dylan has shown himself to be one of the least pompous and most talented of his ilk, and he seems likely to be unimpressed by the pompous interpretations given by others to some of his work. Then there’s:

    ‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
    When blackness was a virtue the road was full of mud
    I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
    “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

    And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
    I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
    In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm.
    “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

    “We bargained for salvation; she gave me a lethal dose.”

    • #26
  27. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    With my above disclaimer in mind that I don’t think it’s a great song, I feel the need to say something in defense of Blowin in the Wind.

    Of particular concern is placing it in the same category as John Lennon’s awful Imagine.

    Now I agree both songs have gotten the attention of naive lefty idealists, but Imagine is the only one of the two that really espouses such dreck. According to Imagine, if only everyone would join together and share the idealism with the dreamers, “the world will live as one.” Gross.

    The Blowin in the Wind narrator, by contrast, is not such a fool. That song is a lament. The narrator longs for peace, longs for justice and freedom, longs to know the truth about the universe and man’s place in it. But he knows human beings will never have the answers. Those answers are blowing in the wind – untouchable, uncatchable, invisible. This is a song that recognizes the fallen nature of man and sees no solution. This is a conservative truth. This is the same thing we lament all the time.

    The wind in this song is more like the futile “chasing after the wind” metaphor in Ecclesiastes. This is a song, ultimately about longing for truth, and though it doesn’t mention it explicitly, longing for God.

    That’s a theme you will find in many many Dylan’s songs. I don’t think he’s kidding when he talks about finding religion in music and I don’t think that quote is some vapid shallow celebrity theology. He seems to take God very seriously – in his music anyway, and not just the explicitly religious ones like Every Grain of Sand.

    OK, Boomer.

    The context of “Blowin’ in the Wind” was a whole lot of Bull Connors, violent oppression of blacks who knew that a violent demand for their Constitutional rights, falsely written away by white supremacist Supreme Court majorities, would be disastrous. 

    • #27
  28. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    This post is part of our Group Writing Series under the March 2021 theme: “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Stop by and sign up soon.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #28
  29. Steven Galanis Coolidge
    Steven Galanis
    @Steven Galanis

    I suspect that when you put the last dot on this post, the dove (black or white what difference?) was in your hand, even if for a fleeting moment. It had crossed many miles.

     

    • #29