By Tony Attwood, delving a little further and comparing some of the recordings from the Never Ending Tour, based on the comprehensive NET series by Mike Johnson (for which there is an index here).
Previously I’ve taken a look at
“Hard Rain’s a gonna fall” is of course one of the absolute classics of the Dylan collection and again we have the chance of putting together a snapshot of just how the song has changed over the decades. And inevitably there is a surprise lurking – of course, because this is Dylan.
The song was written in 1962 so by 1988, the date of our first example here, this classic song was already over a quarter of a century old, and Bob has started putting in the accents on specific words, breaking up the song into a series of exclamations, each of which demands its own “!” at the end. The melody is irrelevant the declaiming of the message is everything.
Except that we get the most delicate of instrumental verses as if to say, us poor, wretched children of the earth are still sitting here, subject to the horrors our leaders have poured forth upon our land. We’ve done nothing wrong, but we always suffer.
Now, going on a further 15 years to 2003 (below), there’s more involvement of Bob: he’s been there and seen it all. It is almost as if the hard has started falling.
And yet, and yet, there is a delicacy, amidst the sorrow and horror. Somehow the song now seems to be saying a hard rain is going to fall, but also at the same time we are in the midst of that hard rain. The nearest image I can find what Bob is doing is that he is tearing his hair out: it will happen, it has happened, it will be here, it is already here.
The instrumental break is one of the most comprehensive and well arranged I’ve heard for this song, and it keeps on building and building the power, before taking us right back down ready for that build up until he is standing on the ocean. The reaction of the audience shows just how much power they see and feel and hear.
So the question arises: where on earth does one go after that? 12 years on we get to 2015 and Bob has taken those accents as part of the song, but added extra bars into the chorus to spread the message out somewhat.
It is now as if it is all over; we have been warned but we have not listened, and now in our older days we look back on the warnings of the past that we ignored.
Somehow the old man now really is talking to his blue eyed son: the grandfather listening to the tales of the younger generation who don’t quite realise what the old man has himself lived through.
The lilting accompaniment throughout reminds me of the old timer sitting in the rocking chair surrounded by the generations that have followed him (although I must stress no one has bought me a rocking chair yet, and I’m glad of that).
Just listen to the deepest dark forest verse: he’s been there and seen it, and is now is retiring from the world. He can still rage against the machine, but he knows his time has been and gone.
Yes, really, he foretold what would happen, and it did, and all we can now do is reflect on how we failed to stop them.