Did Bob Dylan Really Write “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” About the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: Bob Dylan wrote “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Since today is Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday, I thought it only right to do a legend about Dylan. This one is about one of his earliest classics, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”…

The song was written in 1962 and its lyrics are striking and, at times, quite bleak:

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

In the liner notes to the 1963 album that had the song on it, Dylan’s breakout hit album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Nat Hentoff quotes Dylan about the song, talking about how he wrote it at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, where the United States seemed like it might be involved in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union over the presence of missiles in Cuba:

“Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new 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.”

So that seems like it addresses it evenly, right? Or no?

As it turns out, Dylan actually first PERFORMED the song on September 22nd, 1962 at an all-star hootenanny, a full month prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis (amusingly, each performer was given ten minutes for three songs. Dylan was worried – his only song WAS ten minutes long!). So it is likely that he wrote the song even before then.

Dylan has even said that the “hard rain” is not even necessarily a reference to nuclear fallout.

“No, it’s not atomic rain, it’s just a hard rain. It isn’t the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that’s just gotta happen … In the last verse, when I say, ‘the pellets of poison are flooding the waters’, that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers”

Whether Dylan is telling the truth there or not, the fact remains that he clearly didn’t write the song about a crisis that came about a month after he first performed the song.

The legend is…

STATUS: False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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