Folk music encompasses several other genres of music: blues, country, bluegrass, gospel, etc. However, the single trait that all folk songs posses is that they are a narrative. Embedded in the personal lyrics is a message or a story. In Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ many stories combine to form a single message. Most people don’t know that Dylan had begun many different songs, but he feared that he would die before he got a chance to complete them, so he decided to mesh them all into one song, thus birthing ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.’ Because the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album came out after the Cuban Missile Crisis, people thought ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ was in response to it, but Dylan wrote it before John F. Kennedy announced that Soviet missiles were found in Cuba. Nevertheless, his lyrics are applicable to any and everyone.
If you analyze the song line by line, the amount of symbolism can become overwhelming. The ‘real meaning’ or ‘what the writer is really trying to say’ in each sentence is debatable, but it is undeniable that the overall message being conveyed is that our world is collapsing around us while we obliviously stand by. We are lost, ‘stumbl[ing] on the side of … misty mountains.’ He personifies the forest by saying it’s ‘sad,’ and the ocean by saying it’s ‘dead.’ Nature is being destroyed in order for us to have a place to drive and park our air-polluting cars. But we want to build taller, bigger buildings. We always want more.
Race issues also add color to the tune. He sings, ‘I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin” and ‘I met a white man who walked a black dog.’ There are quite a few possibilities for what these two statements could mean. It is likely that the imagery in the first is representing the violence against blacks, and though the mistreatment of minorities has decreased over the years, it is an issue that will always fester in the back of people’s minds, which adds to the timelessness of the song. A ‘white man who walked a black dog,’ is obviously addressing race as well. The simple and common act of walking a dog is used as a metaphor for slavery, which was a major issue in the early sixties (the song was released in 1962). Dylan subtly and tastefully slips in references to racism and slavery throughout the ballad.
It’s amazing how obsessed people are with violence and death. Why is it that Shark Week on the Discovery Channel is so popular? I know it’s my favorite TV week of the year. The best parts in action movies tend to be fight scenes, explosions, shooting battles, and tragic deaths. Just look at the success of the American thriller Jaws. Why do we find ourselves wanting certain characters to die in movies? Has the word sympathy vanished from our vocabulary? Movies are able to turn situations that are normally serious and melancholy into something comedic. The more outrageous the death, the closer the spectrum is to humorous rather than depressing. It’s okay if we laugh when the girl falls off the cliff and gets eaten by a bear, because it’s fictitious; it didn’t really happen. However, I can’t help but stop and think how someone watching that movie would feel if the person actually knew a girl who fell off a cliff and got devoured by a bear.
When I think of the interview portions of beauty pageants, the first phrase that pops into my head is ‘world peace.’ Even the comedy/romance Miss Congeniality follows that mold. But think about it. How interesting would a peaceful world really be? I went to my first hockey game last weekend, and every time players from opposing teams smashed against the glass or came in close contact with each another, I scooted to the edge of my seat, praying that a fight would break out. The hockey game was already fairly interesting as is, but a fight would take it to the next level. I so much desired for punches to be thrown, causing blood and sweat to fly trough the air. As long as I stayed on the other side of the glass. I felt like I was in junior high or high school again, standing in a clump with my peers, while we huddled around a scrawny kid who was trying to prove himself to an arrogant jock as we shouted, ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ If all violence was eliminated from the earth completely, not only would security system and pepper spray companies suffer, but also dullness would consume people’s lives. We need to read about the stabbings and the robberies in the paper and watch the people battle cancer in movies and on TV, because it makes our lives look better. I can always rely on the newspaper to inform me that my life could be worse. The unexpected keep us on our toes, and I believe that unfortunate events are capable of teaching us something, making us stronger and wiser.
Dylan wants his audience to become aware of the hate that exists inside of all us. Daily, we have opportunities to expose it, but that does not mean that we should jump at every chance we get. That would be too easy. In ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ Dylan isn’t trying to brainwash listeners into being kind to everyone, or to always say, ‘please’ and ‘thank-you.’ He just asks that we drop a few coins into the beggar’s cup next time we pass him on the corner and to throw our water bottle in the recycling bin instead of the trashcan. Open your ears and listen to the thunder, the wave, the drummers, the whisperin’, the starving, the poet, and the clown. Even though you may be the only one that does, action needs to be taken. Baby steps are the best way to start. But admitting that you have a problem is the first step. And you better do it soon, before the rain begins to fall.