friday feast: jon j muth’s adaptation of bob dylan’s “blowin’ in the wind”

When I first heard Jon J Muth was doing a picture book adaptation of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” I fairly swooned.

The mere thought of DYLAN (my best bud who’s probably writing a song about me even as we speak) paired with MUTH (who had me years ago with his panda wearing baggy shorts) made me hyperventilate with anticipation. Just how would he make an iconic, somewhat ambiguous protest song meaningful for children?

Muth cleverly used a paper airplane as a visual metaphor. The “answer,” perhaps written on this folded piece of paper, sails on the wind, ever present but always out of reach. It’s quite an apt metaphor, perfectly in tune with what Dylan himself said when the song was first published in 1962:

Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some  …But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong.

Muth’s paper planes travel through lush, dreamy watercolor landscapes, each scene reflecting a different lyric. Four children and a woman, depicted singly or in groups, appear in the narrative — a journey traversing green fields, hillsides, forests and an ocean. The paper airplane is always present — a silent lodestar which takes on spiritual connotations (“How many seas must the white dove sail/Before she sleeps in the sand?”). I am reminded that the Native Americans view birds as messengers between heaven and earth. The ethereal, capricious wind, invisible but for the flittering of a paper plane, can gently usher in change or cause mass destruction.

Ironically, Dylan didn’t consider “Blowin’ in the Wind” a protest song. It was adapted from the Negro spiritual, “No More Auction Block,” and contains Biblical rhetoric, so it “follows the same feeling” — inspirational as gospel music is, but not political. He claims he wrote the song in ten minutes!

"Yes, 'n' how many years can a mountain exist/Before it is washed to the sea?" (click to enlarge)

Muth’s idyllic landscapes, characterized by a soothing, inherent stillness, reflect the song’s entreaty for peace, harmony and freedom. The sheer majesty of these natural scenes are in keeping with the spiritual feeling Dylan intended. Each child has his own plane, must travel his own path, find his own answers. By the end of the book, the children and the woman are all playing together with a big red ball. Nearby, there’s an old cannon draped with the flags of several nations, a single red balloon tied to it.

The final spread shows all the paper planes gliding in unison high in the sky. There may be different answers, but only one human truth. Basically we all want the same things. A fleet of planes, the collective unconscious. Single notes join in 12-part harmony, a beautiful chorus.

This new picture book will make it possible for parents and teachers to share Dylan’s song with a new generation of children who’ve never known a time when America was not at war. It comes with a CD of the original studio recording of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and there’s also an Author’s Note and a Note from music historian Greil Marcus, which discusses the song’s universal, timeless message and describes what the world was like when the song became a civil rights anthem in the 60’s.

The open-ended narrative and use of enigmatic symbols (red balloon, red ball, red boat, acoustic guitar passed down to the children from a man living in a walled city), will challenge children of different ages (and adults) to draw their own conclusions, interpret as they will. Muth’s use of red, in particular, could spark interesting discussion: is it the color of strength and love, or a reminder of blood shed in senseless wars? Is it the rising sun, the dawn of new hope (since the boy on the cover, the only one able to touch a plane, is wearing a red shirt)? Or is it fire — to complement the earth, air and water so prevalent in the pictures?

For almost 50 years, “Blowin’ in the Wind” has reminded us of these painful unanswerable questions. Muth says:

Freedom and joy are not care-free. Escape from the burdens of life isn’t freedom. Freedom is full of care for everything. That means we must be a part of what all people want for themselves and for humanity. The doors of the heart will then be thrown open to wind from every direction.

Reach for the paper airplane, unfold it and read what is written there.♥

*Dylan first performed “Blowin’ in the Wind” at Gerde’s Folk City in NYC on April 16, 1962. Since then, he’s performed it live 1050 times, the most recent being last night in Leipzig, Germany. Enjoy this performance at the Concert for Bangladesh (1971):

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND
written by Bob Dylan
illustrated by Jon J Muth
published by Sterling Children’s Books, November 2011
Picture Book for ages 5+, 28 pp.
Includes CD
*On shelves now!

I’d love for you to share any thoughts or memories you might have related to this song. Do you remember when you first heard it?

♥ Diane Mayr has today’s Roundup at Random Noodling.

♥ Related reviews on this blog: Man Gave Names to All the Animals illustrated by Jim Arnosky (Sterling), When Bob Met Woody by Gary Golio and Marc Burckhardt (Little, Brown).

♥ Review of Blowin’ in the Wind by Kelly R. Fineman.

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“Bob Dylan sets up a number of questions, like ‘how many deaths will it take till he knows/That too many people have died? and finds that ‘The answer is blowin’ in the wind.’ This is a poet’s answer to an unanswerable question, and it has the effect of poetry, which is to open up the sky.” ~ Frank Kermode and Stephen Spender (“The Metaphor at the End of the Funnel”, Esquire, 1972).

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*Spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2011 Jon J Muth, published by Sterling Children’s Books. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

“D” is for?

#33 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet.

Just read this great review at Book Aunt about The Rock & Roll Alphabet by Jeffrey Schwartz, with photos by Chuck Boyd (Mojo Hand, 2011). Definitely a cool way to learn your ABCs, with rhyming couplets to read aloud and wonderful vintage photos.

BUT. As much as I love the DOORS, I just have to ask: WHAT ABOUT DYLAN?

For consolation, I’m going to make some meatballs (a Dylan fave), and Cornelius says he might just tip back a few drops of Jack Daniels, even though he usually doesn’t drink. Sigh.

More alphabetica here.

 Certified authentic alphabetica. Made by hand with love and serious Dylan withdrawal.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

let’s celebrate: when bob met woody by gary golio and marc burckhardt!

“All I can do is be me, whoever that is.” ~ Bob Dylan

Hey, hey! Today is Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday!!

We could celebrate by listening to 70 of our favorite Dylan songs, singing “Like a Rolling Stone” seventy times, or by letting out 70 WooHoo’s! for this brand new picture book biography, When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan (Little, Brown, 2011). (I vote for all of the above.)

Honey Babe, I was soooooooo excited when I first heard this book was coming out, but disappointed when I couldn’t get my hands on a review copy — until the ever thoughtful and generous Jules of 7-Imp offered to share hers (kiss kiss hug hug love on that beautiful woman). Now, I’m no longer a sad-eyed lady of the lowlands, because I’ve devoured Gary Golio’s wonderful words and pored over Marc Burckhardt’s crackerjack illustrations.

Though there are several middle grade Dylan biographies, and two recent picture books illuminating his song lyrics — Man Gave Names to All the Animals illustrated by Jim Arnosky (Sterling, 2010), and Forever Young illustrated by Paul Rogers (Atheneum, 2008) — Golio’s is the first trade picture book biography featuring the iconic music legend.

Even a casual fan knows there are tons of books published about Dylan (latest count: approximately 1000 titles in English), including biographies and retrospectives, songbooks, photo albums, graphic interpretations of his lyrics, collections of articles and interviews, academic analyses of his ouevre by hardcore Dylanologists, even an encyclopedia containing every bit and bob about Bob. And of course, there’s Dylan’s own critically acclaimed memoir, Chronicles, Volume One (S&S, 2005). So Mr. Golio’s task must have been quite daunting, sifting through the available resources and creating a narrative captivating enough to interest young readers who’ve probably never heard of our favorite Archbishop of Anarchy. And then there’s that little matter of Dylan fabricating parts of his life, especially his early years.

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friday feast: a growl, a snort, and a roar

Look what just came out this Fall!

I was so excited when I first heard that artist/naturalist Jim Arnosky was going to create a picture book based on one of Dylan’s songs. I liked and reviewed Peter Yarrow’s Day is Done (illustrated by Melissa Sweet, also published by Sterling) last year, so I was confident this new book would be equally as beautiful.

Dylan’s song, “Man Gave Names to All the Animals,” a personal interpretation of Bible scripture (Genesis 2:19-20), was included on the first of his spiritual albums, Slow Train Coming (1979), produced soon after he became a born-again Christian.

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friday feast: the demos that made bob dylan famous

“In the jigsaw that is Bob Dylan, ‘The Witmark Demos’ are crucial pieces, and it’s easy to get lost in the depths, the sheer audacity and beauty, of this music.” **** ~ UNCUT


                      
             (2-CD set released October 2010)

Just when you think you can’t love Dylan’s music any more than you already do, along comes “The Witmark Demos.”

Many of you already know about my passion obsession  unabashed worship of this man, whom I consider to be the greatest American songwriter of our time. I admit I’m not one to flat out love everything he does, nor am I familiar with every single one of his 500+ compositions. But I thought I pretty much had the early part of his career covered, being familiar with the definitive recordings of his trademark anthems and some of the Bootleg albums containing alternate arrangements, out-takes, etc.

Well. “The Witmark Demos” are something else again. 

Think in terms of historic milestone. The birth of the singer-songwriter movement. A monumental shift in the music publishing industry. A young artist/musician on the cusp of fame, already displaying flashes of genius. To all the naysayers who still can’t see what the big deal is about Bob Dylan, I say, “Just open your hearts and listen.”

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