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When Bob Dylan Debuted the ’60s Anthem ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’

National Archives, Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Allow us to set the scene: It’s April 16, 1962, and you’re at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village listening to a young troubadour named Bob Dylan. He throws out a song he’s still working on called “Blowin’ in the Wind.” You are hearing it for the first time. It stops everyone in their tracks.

At this point, the song only had two verses, but within a few days of this public debut, Dylan added the iconic third verse that begins “how many years can a mountain exist” – raising the stakes of the song even higher. “Blowin’ in the Wind” was based on the Negro spiritual “No More Auction Block,” which also found a home in Dylan’s set lists. A live version from Grede’s was later included in his first Bootleg Series box set.

Dylan first published “Blowin’ in the Wind” in an issue of the folk magazine Sing Out in mid-1962, though it wouldn’t find a home on on vinyl until his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, in the spring of 1963. “There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind,” Dylan told Sing Out. “It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind, and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is, but oh I won’t believe that. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old, and I know that there’s been too many. You people over 21, you’re older and smarter.”

“Blowin’ in the Wind” became the soundtrack to the Civil Rights movement, propelling Dylan into the eye of the storm with the unwanted tag of “spokesman of a generation.” He dismissed the label soon enough and, much to the chagrin of the folk elite, moved very quickly past protest songs to create a much different Bob Dylan.

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