Lately I’ve been thinking about the song Blowin’ in the Wind.
Like many millions of people, when I first heard it I was moved; and I appreciated the depth and meaning in every line, every question posed by the author, each one pertaining to a fact of human history consistently revealing itself for each new generation.
I couldn’t help but be a little disheartened by the fact that these questions are still so relevant, so many years later.
Yet in the years following my first encounter with the song—for all it’s undeniable eloquence and power—the chorus still struck me as frustratingly flat.
To ask questions like “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” only to say that the answer is blowin’ in the wind, felt a little bit cheap, as though each of us might as well throw up our hands and just say ‘oh well.’
It was the only thing about the song that bugged me. However, lately I’ve been looking at it differently.
Maybe I’m just slow and people have been hip to it all long, or maybe I’m taking shots in the dark and totally inserting my own meaning into the song, but that chorus means far more to me now than it did before.
What I think now is that if it feels underwhelming and flat to the listener, then that’s a good thing, because it should feel underwhelming and unsatisfying.
The song was never about spoon-feeding us the answers to age-old questions anymore than it was pointing its finger at any one group of people. If it’s pointing its finger at anybody, then it’s doing so at everybody.
The real subject of scrutiny isn’t any one country or group or individual, but something deeper and typically more silent, something to which all of us are vulnerable.
Apathy. The very thing that bothered me about the song might actually be the main point of the song in the first place.
The answer, actually, is not blowing in the wind. If it is, it’s only because we’ve given into the same apathy, hopelessness, bitterness and fear that convinces people to throw up their hands and give up right from the start, and leave it to some unseen force outside of their control.
In the last verse, Dylan writes “How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?”
There could be a lot of ways to interpret that line, but for me, it’s the one time throughout the song in which the author winks at us, as if to undermine that seemingly disappointing chorus.
As far as we know, there is only a sky above us, and it seems to care little if at all about the affairs of men and women. It will provide no answer to our problems, beyond the possibility of serving as a mirror. One that allows us to recognize that the answer to these questions is in our hands. It always has been and always will be.
To me, that’s a timeless truth. Elemental as the wind.