‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ Still Asks The Hard Questions by BRIAN NAYLOR
Bob Dylan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama on April 26, 2012. The honor is due in no small part to songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” still asking the same hard questions 50 years later.
By 1962, Bob Dylan had been hanging around McDougal Street in Greenwich Village for a little more than a year. He was known as a nervous guy with a funny cap, a singer and writer of songs like dozens, maybe hundreds, of others. Happy Traum and Bob Cohen were members of a folk group playing the Village at that time, called The New World Singers. They would invite Dylan up on the stage to join them.
“He was very sort of rough around the edges,” Happy Traum notes, “and at the same time he had built this mythology about himself where we didn’t know where he came from; he just sort of appeared, hitchhiking or riding boxcars out of the Southwest or something like that. And so he was immediately this kind of iconic figure even for a 19- or 20-year-old kid.”
Rough as he was, Dylan had caught the eyes and ears of some important and influential people. John Hammond, already a legendary producer at Columbia Records, heard Dylan and signed him for the label. His first album contained just one original composition, “Song to Woody,” and sold only a few thousand copies. But Dylan continued to play and to learn. One night at Gerde’s Folk City, Dylan heard The New World Singers perform a Civil War era freedom song, one that Bob Cohen still remembers.
“It was very dramatic and a very beautiful song, very expressive. And Dylan heard that and heard other songs we were singing. And some days later, he asked us, he said, `Hey, come downstairs.’ We used to go down to Gerde’s basement, which was—is it all right to say?—full of rats, I don’t know, and other things. And he had his guitar, and it was kind of a thing where when he added a new song, he’d call us downstairs and we’d listen to it. And he had started—and he wrote, (singing) `How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?’ LISTEN TO THE STORY……