May 27, 2014

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall…”


When Columbia Records released the first, self-titled album by Bob Dylan in 1962 it went largely unnoticed by the general public. Only about 5,000 copies were sold at the time.

But Columbia music producer John Hammond, who signed Dylan to the label, had faith in the young folk singer.

He ignored the jibes of other music executives who dubbed Dylan “Hammond’s Folly” and, in eight sessions strung out over the next twelve months, he recorded a second album with Dylan for Columbia.

That album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was released on May 27, 1963, three days after Dylan’s 22nd birthday.

It’s now considered one of the greatest and most influential albums in American music history.

The Freewheelin’ LP includes what remain some of Dylan’s best-known songs, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Girl from the North Country,” “Masters of War,” “Don't Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

“Blowin’ In The Wind” became the most famous song from the album. But the one that stuck in my mind even more when I first listened to the album in 1963 was “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

The song’s foreboding title, from a phrase in the chorus, was memorable in itself and has since been widely cited and repurposed.

I believe it struck a special chord with kids from the Baby Boom generation, like me.

We grew up at a time when a nuclear war between the US and the USSR seemed inevitable.

In elementary school, we practiced “duck and cover” drills and watched public service films like the one at right, in which a narrator and “Bert the Turtle” helpfully explain what to do when the A-bombs start falling.

Bert told us: “The flash of an atomic bomb can come at any time, no matter where you may be...When there is a flash, duck and cover, and do it fast!”

It seems a bit humorous now. But back then, during the height of the Cold War years, the possibility of an atomic Armageddon was a serious and constant fear.

Movies, TV shows, books, magazine stories and politically-oriented songs of the era helped stoke that fear by portraying what a nuclear holocaust and the hellish aftermath would be like.

That frightening scenario is also conjured up by “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

Many of the lyrics are early examples of the elliptical, dreamlike language Dylan became better known for later. But the title phrase seemed to be a clear metaphor for falling atomic bombs and nuclear fallout.

Bob Dylan singing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” in 1964
This appears to be confirmed by the original liner notes for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, written by journalist, historian and music critic Nat Hentoff

Hentoff said the song “was written during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 when those who allowed themselves to think of the impossible results of the Kennedy-Khrushchev confrontation were chilled by the imminence of oblivion.”

Dylan is then quoted as saying: “Every line in it is actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.”

Fortunately, Bob and the world survived. On May 24, 2014, he turned 73.

I’m not many years from that age myself.

Today, I can listen to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” from a less paranoid perspective. But it still gives me the chills.

In case you haven’t read the lyrics, I’m reprinting them below. And, by clicking this link, you can listen to some of the many interesting cover versions that have been recorded by other musicians and groups over the years.

Here’s to you, Bob. Hope you had a great birthday! Glad you’ve been wrong about that hard rain so far.

“A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall” by Bob Dylan
(Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music)

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Further listening: Dylan’s original recording and some of my favorite cover versions…

May 19, 2014

“From my cold, dead hands” – Charlton Heston’s most famous and infamous words


On May 19, 2001, actor Charlton Heston (1924-2008), was elected to an unprecedented fourth term as the president of the National Rifle Association.

He gave a rousing acceptance speech that day to NRA members attending the group’s annual convention in Kansas City.

He praised them as defenders of freedom, saying, “You are of the same lineage as the farmers who stood at Concord Bridge” at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

Then, holding a Revolutionary War-style Brooks flintlock rifle over his head, Heston uttered what quickly became his most famous quotation that wasn’t a movie line.

It also became Heston’s most infamous quote.

Referring to Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore and other people who supposedly wanted to take away Americans’ right to own guns, he said:

       “I have only five words for you: From my cold, dead hands.”

Earlier in his career, Heston took public stands on other controversial political issues.

He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists in the 1960s to support equal rights for African Americans.

He also defended First Amendment free speech rights.

But, fairly or not, Heston’s most remembered political stand is the one he took on gun rights later in life.

His high profile leadership of the NRA made him a hero to gun rights advocates and a pariah to people who want fewer guns and more gun control.

And, of course, like any notable quote, his “cold, dead hands” phrase has been recycled and repurposed in many ways since 2001.

The snarkiest example is the headline run by The Onion after Heston died on April 5, 2008.

It said: “Charlton Heston’s Gun Taken From His Cold, Dead Hands.”


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Related reading…

Buchanan’s Dictionary of Quotations for Right-minded Americans

By Mike Buchanan, author of
The Fraud of the Rings

May 02, 2014

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”


On May 2, 1908, Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer registered the copyright for the new song about baseball they’d written together.

Naturally, they hoped it would become popular. But they could never have imagined that it would go on to become one of America’s three most frequently-played songs, along with “Happy Birthday” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Norworth wrote the lyrics for the song while riding on a subway train in New York. Von Tilzer wrote the music.

They took the title from a line in the chorus: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

The story of how this famous song was written has been told in many books and on many websites.

According to Norworth’s account, the inspiration for the song came to him while riding the subway in Manhattan. At one of the stops, he saw a sign advertising that day’s baseball game at the Polo Grounds, where the New York Giants played.

At the time, Norworth was a popular performer for the Ziegfeld Follies and an ambitious lyricist. He wasn’t a baseball fan and had never been to a major league game.

However, he knew baseball fans were excited that year about the pennant race between the Giants, the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

When he saw the sign advertising the game at the Polo Grounds, he suddenly realized that it might be good timing for a song about baseball.

While still on the train, Norworth took out a pencil and a piece of paper and rapidly scribbled the lyrics that came to his mind. (That piece of paper is now part of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Library’s collection.)

Norworth took his lyrics to Tin Pan Alley music publisher and songwriter Albert Von Tilzer. Von Tilzer set the lyrics to a waltz tune he’d been writing and on May 2, 1908, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was copyrighted by Von Tilzer’s York Music Company.

That year, several versions of the song were recorded, including one by Norworth and his wife, singer and actress Nora Bayes.

The best selling version was by Billy Murray and the Haydn Quartet. It became a huge hit (the biggest of Murray’s career) and gave the song it’s initial nationwide fame.

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” remained a highly popular song for the next several decades, but its even wider modern fame began in the 1970s, when the beloved baseball sportscaster Harry Caray made it a tradition to sing the song during the seventh inning stretch.

Today, most Americans know the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” even if they’re not baseball fans:

“Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.”

If you’re not familiar with the verses of the song, you may not know that the story they tell is about a female baseball fan who insists on having her boyfriend take to her a ball game on their weekend date.

In the 1908 version, Norworth named this “baseball mad” bachelorette Katie Casey. Here’s the original first verse:

“Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev’ry sou
[sou is an old slang term for a coin]
Katie blew.
On a Saturday her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go
To see a show, but Miss Kate said “No,
I’ll tell you what you can do…’”
[which she explains in the famous chorus]

In 1927, Norworth updated the lyrics of the song and renamed the young lady Nelly Kelley.

You can see the full lyrics of the 1908 and 1927 versions side-by-side in the Baseball Wiki entry about “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

If you want to know all the facts and trivia about this grand old song, there’s a book for that. In fact, there are two: Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (2008), by Andy Strasberg, Robert Thompson and Tim Wiles and Take Me Out to the Ball Game: The Story of the Sensational Baseball Song (2009), by Amy Whorf McGuiggan.

There are also several books for children that feature the song, including one by Carly Simon that includes a CD album of classic baseball songs 

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Related reading, listening and viewing…

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