I was out on my bike this morning. And a wonderful song came up on shuffle on my ipod. So I thought I would share it with y’all. Just in case there is any doubt that Bob Dylan is one of the greatest lyricists that ever lived (and I know of no such doubt, but just on the off-chance), may I draw your attention to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”.
Not being an extreme Bob Dylanophile (which sounds like one of those bizarre creatures that live in volcanic vents in the ocean floor), I don’t know a lot about the history of the song or anything. But rather than me regurgitate a wikipedia article to you, I’ll just add a link to it later on, and we can both read it together.
Anyway, the song describes the journeys of a young man who has been travelling, and returned home to his doting parents. The parents question their beloved son on his travels. “Where have you been, my blue-eyed son?” they begin. He tells them of a number of faintly disturbing places. Trying a different direction they ask “What have you seen?”. He describes the sights he has seen, which are even more unpleasant than the places were. The parents try again with “What did you hear?”. Mostly that’s the sounds of sorrow and pain. In desperation, they ask “Who did you meet?”. Unexpectedly, there is some good news here, but not much. After each verse, the chorus warns that “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall”, which I always think of as my favourite musical prophesy of doom. It doesn’t say much about this rain, but given the overall tone of the song, I think we can assume that it isn’t going to be good. Then comes the final question – “What’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?”. I suspect that my own answer might be “I’m going to stay right here, and I’m never going back out there because it’s all horrible” (obviously re-worded a bit to make it fit the tune). But Bob Dylan’s answer is “I’m going back out before the rain starts to fall”, and describes all the horrible places where he is prepared to go. Having seen the horror of the world, he does not turn away from it, but instead goes out to do something about it, while he still can. This last verse always challenges me.
As a post-script, I should admit that this morning I didn’t listen to Bob Dylan’s original version of the song, and instead was listening to the version recorded by Brian Ferry and/or Roxy Music (I’m never quite sure which). I like this version because of its richer instrumentation, and the fact that it goes along much more quickly, which keeps your attention better for what is otherwise quite a long song. However, it does miss out the “who did you meet” verse, which has the excellent lines “I met one man who was wounded in love, I met another man who was wounded with hatred”, which is beautifully symmetric.
And finally, some links – you can find a version of the song on youtube to listen to here (though I warn you the video is awful, and the song has been editted in some way), the original lyrics to read here, and that wikipedia article is here, but it doesn’t say a great deal.