Blowin’ in the Wind Lyrics – brilliantly vague

Blowin' in the Wind lyrics and chords

The Blowin’ in the Wind lyrics are among the simplest that Bob Dylan ever wrote yet they are also among the most successful.

It’s not hard to see why. Dylan was barely 20 when he wrote the song, but he was already showing a skill and maturity way beyond his years. He said he wrote the lyrics in about 10 minutes.  

Now that is the kind of casual throwaway remark writers often make about their work to make themselves seem effortlessly gifted. It rarely rings true but in the case of the lyrics to Blowin’ in the Wind, I think it does, although Dylan probably polished the words over several weeks after the initial rush of inspiration.

Lyrics based a long list of carefully crafted questions

The reason I think Dylan could write the song quickly, apart from his genius of course, is that Blowin’ in the Wind is what might be called a ‘list’ song.

He starts with an idea that the answers to some of life’s questions are essentially unknowable, or at least we don’t know them just yet. The answers are “blowin’ in the wind”.

We can, of course, look at that in two ways: the answers are unknowable because they’re too difficult, or too abstract, too ethereal…like they’re blowing in the wind and never quite catchable, always out of our reach.

Or you could say we don’t know the answers because we’ve been too lazy to look. The answers are there in front of our noses, floating right in front of our eyes but we don’t reach out and grab them.

You can look at it both ways, and no doubt fans will have lots of other interpretations.

Once Dylan comes up with this question and answer approach to his lyric, the challenge is then to come up with a series of questions. For an inquisitive mind like Dylan’s, especially at time when young people were questioning everything around them, all the old values, all the social injustices, that probably wasn’t too difficult.

Hence Dylan’s comment that he wrote Blowin’ in the Wind in about 10 minutes.

Where Dylan’s brilliance starts to shine

But here’s where Dylan’s genius really starts to shine. He doesn’t ask the typical questions that idealistic young people were asking in the early 60s. No mention of civil rights, protest marches, equality for black people…nothing specific.

Instead, Dylan asks more general and abstract questions. ‘How many roads must a man walk down…how many seas must a white dove sail…how many times must the cannonball fly…and so on.

The result is a series of questions that don’t say anything specific at all and are all met with an equally vague response: ‘the answer is blowin’ in the wind’.

In this way, the Blowin’ in the Wind lyrics set the template for many more Dylan songs that are seen as incisive social commentary, which indeed they are, but are vague in what they actually say.

Everyone interprets the lyrics to suit their circumstances

The genius of this approach is that everyone can interpret the lyrics in a way that is meaningful to them and their particular circumstances. Everyone, whether they come from the political left or right, can identify with the song and think it applies to them.

This means no political group is alienated by the lyrics and so the market for the song is not reduced by any factionalism. Like many great writers before him, Dylan is employing a creative vagueness, ensuring the song can mean something to as many people as possible.

I imagine some people will be angered by this view and may even think I am criticising Dylan but I am not. Blowin’ in the Wind is not my favourite Dylan song by a long way, but I admire it greatly. It may be simple, but it’s the simplicity of genius, a very mature genius at that, despite his young age.

You can easily put this view to the test. Look through the Blowin’ in the Wind lyrics below. Look at all the questions and say which one would be offensive to any group of people, whether left or right.

I would suggest that no one would be offended or irritated by anything in the song. The questions are too abstract; deliberately so. Anyone, left or right, can interpret the song as reflecting their lives and concerns.

Dylan doesn’t offer answers to his list of questions

Despite this vague, non-committal approach to the song, it became an anthem of liberal young Americans. Many of them saw Dylan as the leader of the civil and cultural revolution, earning himself the title of ‘voice of a generation’.

Dylan’s horror at such an accolade has been well documented so I won’t go into that but his disapproval at the label adds to the view that he wasn’t saying something specific in the song, he was merely raising issues and asking questions; the answers to which he was quite happy to admit, he did not have.

It’s kind of ironic isn’t it? A young man who puts forward vague questions for which he doesn’t have an answer, finds himself being lauded as a leader of his generation.

I applaud Dylan for rejecting that accolade; it would be too much for anyone to bear. It still reflects his brilliance though that the lyrics to Blowin’s in the Wind could have such a huge impact.

This is a personal view of the Blowin’ in the Wind lyrics from songwriter Nick Kehoe

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Blowin’ in the Wind lyrics and chords

The full lyrics to Blowin’ in the Wind. The chords are presented in the key of C.

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[C]How many [F]roads must a [C]man walk down
Before you [F]call him a [C-G7]man?
Yes ‘n’ [C]how many [F]seas must a [C]white dove sail
Before she [F]sleeps in the [G-G7]sand?
Yes ‘n’ [C]how many [F]times must the [C]cannon balls fly
Before they’re [F]forever [C]banned?
The [F]answer my [G7]friend is [C]blowin’ in the wind
The [F]answer is [G7]blowin’ in the [C]wind[/chordsandlyrics]

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind


How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes ‘n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind


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