Saturday, December 03, 2005

more dylan

"I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests,
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans. ...
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'"
- a Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
How good is that?
As Dylan demonstrated, a good protest song is not simply political, nor is it narrowly confined to the issue that it's protesting. The best protest songs provide historical and artistic context for an alternative worldview and, in doing so, give legitimacy and a powerful sense of inevitability to the protest; even if the target of the protest never hears the actual song, he's ultimately unable to ignore its message and the followers that message inspires. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"--which Dylan wrote during the Cuban missile crisis--never specifically mentions war. Instead, it uses apocalyptic imagery--"I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests, I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans. ... I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin', I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'"--to convey the horrors of war and, in the process, transcends its topic. As David Hajdu wrote in his book Positively Fourth Street, the song "provoke[s] feeling and thought as well as action."
Trite Eyes by Jason Zengerle

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