Image: Wikimedia Commons

The music that made me – ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ by Bob Dylan

School in 2016 was a 30-minute drive away. The only facilities to listen to music were an ancient USB stick that refused to work most of the time and a Bob Dylan Greatest Hits CD. Predictably enough, my brother and I chose the latter, over glitchy music or the rickety noise of the wheels of Dad’s car as it screeched against uneven asphalt. Unpredictably though, we never got sick of it. This was strange. My brother was obsessed with EDM. I was obsessed with pop music. We did not expect to be swayed by poetry in a language that wasn’t native to us. We did not expect to look forward to it.

My favourite was track 2. ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’. A call-and-response folk song, which was originally a poem. Each verse starts with an invocation to a blue-eyed son and a darling young one, and ends with “It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall”. What happens in the middle is a recounting of what the “blue-eyed son” and “darling young one” saw. What happens in the middle is a reflection on everything breathtakingly beautiful and devastatingly hideous the world has to offer. What happens in the middle has made me who I am today—an annoyingly curious and inquisitive person. A person who is terrified of not knowing.

Folk music and simple chords with profound poetry will always have a special place in my heart and my playlists

I didn’t know it back then, but as I grew older, I was more and more enamoured by poetry. This turned into a passion for spoken word, which musically drew me towards more lyrical and poetic music. Be it discovering Billy Joel’s ‘Vienna’ last year or Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’ a few years back. Be it revelling in the music of artists like Sufjan Stevens, Meryem Aboulouafa, and beabadoobee, or having a crazily long Twenty One Pilots phase (which still hasn’t ended, by the way). I listen to a lot of genres of music now, granted. But folk music and simple chords with profound poetry will always have a special place in my heart and my playlists.

Coming back to the track in question, each verse focuses on a different action—where the two characters have been, what they have seen, what they have heard, who they have met and lastly, what they will do with all of this knowledge. Back then, it may have taken ten listens to grasp what was going on, but when I did, I couldn’t wait to listen to it again. To absorb a new line of the lyric. Today, if I had a choice, I could do a dissertation on this song alone. On what each and every line means to me. Here, I will discuss my favourite lines—one from each verse, and what they mean to me.

From the first verse, “I’ve been ten-thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard” was a line that always stuck out to me. First, it was confusion and awe—I was confused about the magnanimity of this graveyard, of the amount of lost (or indeed, certain) souls either the blue-eyed son or the darling young one may have met. I was intrigued about what they learnt— was it the horror of people who died in a factory that burned down? Or the woe of a man who was taken by an illness? Or perhaps the peace of an old woman who knew her time had come? How did they come across the graveyard and what all did it have to offer?

My highlight from the second verse has to be, “I saw a highway with diamonds and nobody on it.” To my young ears, this was befuddling. At first, it sounded like a joke. Why would no one be on a highway with diamonds? But after a few months of constant listening, I started to wonder if something was wrong with the diamonds. Were they cursed? Or stolen? Or a result of exploitation? Were they deceptive? Had people been here before and lost their sanity, their purpose? Maybe, they had. Maybe there was an element of horror. Not the horror of ghosts or zombies or witches. But instead, the horror of the real world—of occupation, greed, colonialism, and exploitation. I know now that if there was a highway with diamonds, I wouldn’t want to be on it. Neither did my 10-year-old self.

The rainbow is one of the very few glimpses of colour in this sombre song

From the third verse: “I heard the sound of the thunder that roared out a warning”. Listening to this now, the line clearly makes a reference to the rather admonishing refrain—the hard rain which is going to fall. It reminds me of the importance of the refrain. It makes me question the responders, the blue-eyed son and the darling young one – of why they are only certain about one facet of their observation. That no matter what happens, a hard rain will fall. This, as I understand it, has a deeply existential implication. One that is reminiscent of the “end of the world”—an idea that we have always seen across various mythologies and scriptures.

At the same time, it reminds me of the French proverb, “Après la pluie, le beau temps” (“after the rain, there is pleasant weather”). Perhaps all of this doesn’t have to be so existential. Perhaps the hard rain is going to be a warning that will, indeed, terrify us. However, as we consider this hard rain’s significance and purpose, it will relent. Into clear-blue skies with cotton-white clouds that are shaped like dinosaurs.

From the fourth and penultimate verse: “I met a young girl / she gave me a rainbow.” A line that earlier seemed out of place, as largely, the lyrics discussed what was profoundly and devastatingly sad with a few glimmers of hope. But this, being gifted a rainbow? This seemed way too positive. Overtly misplaced within the cautionary admonishes. It strikes me now, the significance of this girl and her rainbow. The rainbow is one of the very few glimpses of colour in this sombre song. The rainbow also, in a clear-cut way, makes reference to the rain. Perhaps this young girl has given one of our narrators the means to end the hard rain. Not only end the rain, in fact, but end it with a beautiful medley of vibrant colours. Thus, the young girl also taught me that solutions can be found in the most unexpectedly ordinary places. That a young girl must not be overlooked. That no one must be overlooked.

As I reach the last verse, I realise identifying a line here is impossible, because this verse is tied together with continuous enjambment: an imminent interconnectedness. It has to be because it’s the last and most important question: “What will you do now?”. Here, the blue-eyed son and darling young one turn from passive spectators to active agents. This was always the most important verse for me. This verse, in a way, has, indeed, made me.

What happens here, then? Well, the two characters say they will walk back into the forest, “where the people are many and their hands are all empty”.  They will walk back there, and “tell it, and speak it, and think it, and breathe it/ and reflect from the mountains so all souls can see it/ and I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking/But I’ll know my song well before I start singing”.

The final action of our two young characters is to warn everyone of the rain

The final action of our two young characters is to warn everyone of the rain. The beauty of this simple mission brings a tear to my eye. The blue-eyed son and darling young one could indeed be passive observers. They could just watch the world burn and not lift a finger to aid anyone. They could live a life of bliss and luxury, counting down the minutes until the rain fell. But they do not. They retrace their steps—to the graveyard, the forest, the ocean, the mountains, the village. They make sure everyone hears the one thing that invariably, needs to be heard. That the hard rain is going to fall.

They arm everyone with knowledge so that reservoirs for rainwater harvesting can be made. That houses can be made sturdier. That the space could be evacuated, escaped from. That they can change and make it so that the hard rain decides not to fall. Or that if it falls, it ends with pleasant weather or a rainbow.

When I was ten, I was merely intrigued by the song—by the confluence of the simplest guitar strums and lyrics that sounded beautiful but were way beyond my scope of comprehension. By the fact that a song that was nearly seven minutes long never bored me despite it playing every day from Monday-to-Friday, twice. Eight years later, I know it isn’t just a sad poem. It is a call to action, it is reflection, it is a warning. Most importantly, it is not giving up. It is fighting. Taking accountability. Not sitting still. Moving. Bettering. Evolving. Changing.

“A hard rain’s a-gonna fall”

Comments (2)

  • This is a highly informative post! Your explanations were clear and thorough. I especially appreciated the way you discussed the latest research findings. Thank you for sharing such valuable information

  • Rolf Säfström

    I’ve tried t mske a painting of that Song in 1977… Two Times!

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