“Blowin In The Wind” (1962)


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On the cover of Freewheelin‘ both Suze and Bob look a little chilled. Suze is curled up next to him leaving no space in between and Bob’s got his hands in his pants pockets.  He also has the buttons up top buttoned, the bottom two are opened, and if you look close you can see a lilt to Suze’s hair, the wind seems to be blowing towards them, not behind, on this two way New York Street.

Suze is looking at the camera; Bob’s eyes are directed at the ground, looking for that “restless piece of paper . . . that’s got to come down some time . . .”?

Bob also said that you got to feel it in the wind, this elusive answer, that is forever blowing, or forever just beyond our grasp or evading our sights.

What we can see or hear are the terrific rhymes; the pattern is consistent, and it keeps the song easy to hear  and pleasing to the ears.  The rhyme scheme is a/b/c/b/d/b/d/d. Easy as a, b,c.

What may not be so easy to see, though we do hear them are the internal rhymes.  There’s one in each verse.  In verse 1, “seas” rhymes in the middle of the next line with “sleeps.” In the second, “how” with “allowed,” and for a thematic punch in the third, “ears” with “hear.”

Let’s stick with that last one a bit.  There are only two things that can be heard in this song–the cannonballs flying in verse 1 and the people crying in the last verse.  Oh, and a third, the wind, you can hear the wind blowing, and you can hear Dylan, singing above it, singing into it, breathing life into a song that is a beloved anthem to the power of questions for protest.

Here’s a less than a minute clip from the concert for Bangladesh, 1971:

And here’s a live performance of the whole song on TV in 1963:


How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ 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

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind



“Apple Suckling Tree” (1969)

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This is a hoot of a song, hootananny-ish, front porch knee slapping music, as are most of the Basement Tapes songs.  Christoper Ricks feels “rough-riding energies” in them.  They’re where a “raucous raunchy world come alive” for him.  “Apple Suckling” fits that bill well.  All the sexual innuendos are there if you want them to be. And like Shakespeare in his darker comedies, Dylan, seems to revel in their bawdiness.

The rhyming instigates sing-along, playfulness, and spontaneity, but it’s more controlled when you see it on the page. The first verse set an a/b/b/b pattern, if you toss aside the “Down there”‘s and “Oh yeah”‘s. The bridge, repeated just once, maintains the ee assonance.  And Dylan shifts to pure assonance again in verse three with a series of long i sounds with “line” repeated and ending with “time.” The final verse, has a rhyming life of its own with an a/a/b/b rhyme scheme.  The song is framed by rhyming patterns that “come alive” on their own–of their own.  There’s a delightful melodious uumph to the song, overall, pleading with each listener to join in.

And why not do so now, with the “rough-riding energy” of pirated music from Dylan’s latest bootleg release. Who knows how long this will last.  As with all of the Basement Tapes songs, grab these good times while you can.


Old man sailin’ in a dinghy boat
Down there
Old man down is baitin’ a hook
On there
Gonna pull man down on a suckling hook
Gonna pull man into the suckling brook
Oh yeah!

Now, he’s underneath that apple suckling tree
Oh yeah!
Under that apple suckling tree
Oh yeah!
That’s underneath that tree
There’s gonna be just you and me
Underneath that apple suckling tree
Oh yeah!

I push him back and I stand in line
Oh yeah!
Then I hush my Sadie and stand in line
Oh yeah!
Then I hush my Sadie and stand in line
I get on board in two-eyed time
Oh yeah!

Under that apple suckling tree
Oh yeah!
Under that apple suckling tree
Oh yeah!
Underneath that tree
There’s just gonna be you and me
Underneath that apple suckling tree
Oh yeah!

Now, who’s on the table, who’s to tell me?
Oh yeah!
Who’s on the table, who’s to tell me?
Oh yeah!
Who should I tell, oh, who should I tell?
The forty-nine of you like bats out of hell
Oh underneath that old apple suckling tree


“A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” (1963)

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“Hard Rain” is interesting for its lack of rhyming.  Many of us might associate it with poetry and presume rhyme is central to its memorable sound, its cadence and repetition carry it along in a sing-song fashion, the kind we may associate with folk and  ballad.  And then when we hear the likes of Allen Ginsberg speak of it on No Direction Home as a the work that passed the poetic baton from one generation to the next, so rhyme might just be what we assume to characterize such a momentous transition. Ginsberg even says he wept the first time he heard it.

Here’s video clip of Ginsberg speaking of poetry and quoting the line from “Hard Rain,” “I’ll know my song well before I start singing”:

“Poetry is words that are empowered to that make your hair stand on end,” he says.  And this Dylan song does do exactly that to the tuned in listener willing to really take in and on the accumulating images of beauty become wasteland.

The song is a conversation, and the repeated question by the parent figure, mother, father, Mother Earth (the blued son, humanity?, the one who responds to each question) repeats the “one”/”son” terminal rhyme beginning each verse, for example:

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?

Where is the first question, what did you see and hear, who did you meet, the questions that follow, all asking something about the past.  The chilling, hair stand on end question is “What will you do now”?

Before that question, there are rhymes, mostly word ending -in sounds Dylan is good for, e.g., “drippin”/”a-bleedin.”  The third verse has several of them.  But Dylan chooses words that give him freedom to match them in sound.  This line,

Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world

for instance, contains the shaky assonance of “roar” and “world.”  And Dylan knows how he can sing, pronounce them just for the right unity.

The answer to the question about the boy’s future, which may be just within reach of a longer future that prophecies the hard rain that will fall, starts to include more range of rhyme:

I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’

Some of it is from repeated words, where, where, where . . .and some internal, “a-goin'” and “a-fallen'” and some alliteration, “people,” “pellets,” “poison,” “prison,”  and one now terminal, the best rhyme “hidden,”/”prison.” It’s not perfect, “s” vs “d” prevent that, but the double assonance of “pris” with “hid” and “on” with “en” is magnificent, while it also creates the chilling image and perhaps a major theme with “hidden prison,” the one we live in that is our body, the one we can’t see but live in everyday, the possibilities are endless.

This song is a work of art. Here is the live version from Martin Scorsese’s documentary on the Rolling Thunder Revue. Dylan last sung this song 457 times–he knows his song well now, knew it then, and he keeps singing it.

“Walkin’ Down The Line” (1963)

This is an amusing song, with mostly auto-rhymes, words repeated for easy perfect rhyming as in the opening verse’s terminal “line”/”line”/”line”:

Well, I’m walkin’ down the line
I’m walkin’ down the line
An’ I’m walkin’ down the line
My feet’ll be a-flyin’
To tell about my troubled mind

But the repetition in each verse of three in a row terminal exact ending words seems to prepare the reader for the last two lines with terminal rhymes matching the repeated words, in this case, “flyin'” and “mind,” an interesting rhyme because -ind of “mind” looks like it would rhyme with the -in” in mind, but it does not; the rhyme is with the -mi in “mind.”

This pattern continues, but for one exception in verse 6 where “because” has no rhyming partner:

I see the morning light
I see the morning light
Well, it’s not because
I’m an early riser
I didn’t go to sleep last night

It stands out in this way, and for me, it stands out as the most entertaining of all the verses.

Not to be lost in all the “walkin’ down the line” that appears in the song is the walking down each line that the poet is doing to get to a line that breaks the repetition, as if he’s waiting for someone to give him that one original thought that he craves in “Brownsville Girl”:

Now I’ve always been the kind of person that doesn’t like to trespass
but sometimes you just find yourself over the line
Oh if there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now

Over the line, (get over the line already!) over that “Walkin’ down the line” line is a rhyme that awaits that won’t merely repeat.  The pattern works–it’s bluesy humorous.

And the humor is worth reveling in as well as how simple it is, as Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger get across in this live 1975 recording of it:

And here’s Arlo singing the “Bobby Dylan tune” at Woodstock: