Local Outreach Coordinator, Grand Canyon University Spiritual Life
How many roads does a man have to walk down before you call him a man?
Bob Dylan’s unanswerable question has been on my mind a lot lately. For me, Dylan is the type of cat who draws admiration as much as he defies logic. As with any great artist, he’s not someone who can be easily categorized. Folk singer? Social activist? Painter? Wizard-like hippy?
While all are true, none seem to rightly describe the man whose persona will likely be spoken of by music lovers in the same way your fifth grade teacher told you stories about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
I’ve been a casual Dylan fan since I first heard “Desire,” but this week his lyrics morphed into something more. Something transcendent.
As I followed the story of Freddie Gray, the story of Baltimore and, ultimately, the story of America in the news headlines, Dylan’s query from 1963’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” paced back and forth in my mind.
I could almost picture a harmonica-armed Dylan taunting me: “How many roads does a man have to walk down before you call him a man?”
Sometime ago in different America, “Blowin’ in the Wind” stirred the soul of another young man. After surviving the hellish conditions that characterized life for the majority of black Americans of his day, Sam Cooke made his way to the top of the Billboard music charts.
In spite of his success and virtual nationwide acclaim, Cooke couldn’t escape the social hand grenades lobbed at him because of the color of his skin.
One orange-grey evening in Louisiana, everything came to a boiling point for Cooke. While touring with his band, Cooke and his road crew stopped at a Holiday Inn outside Shreveport. As the group arrived, frayed from travel, they were informed that the hotel (at which they had prior reservations) was fully booked.
No vacancies. Whites only.
A shadowy mantra the group had heard countless times. But on this night, Cooke protested, refusing to be sent away. His efforts were rewarded with a trip to a Louisiana prison where he was charged with disturbing the peace.
A few weeks later, Cooke came across an early recording of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which eventually acted as the introductory track on Dylan’s “Freewheelin’” record. Sam was taken aback with Dylan’s outspoken stance towards the issues of the day.
It’s been told that Dylan’s willingness to speak up, as a non-black American, moved Cooke to pen and record what is widely considered his best work: “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Keep reading in Still Just Blowin’ in the Wind – Part 2
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.