Ballad of the Apocalypse: Another Look at Bob Dylan's “Hard Rain”


  • Thomas O. Beebee


Bob Dylan's musical and textual eclecticism is unusual in popular culture, where a single, recognizable persona and style is usually a precondition for success. Dylan's career can be analyzed as a continual shifting and synthesis between seemingly incompatible musical and textual genres, creating a “noise” which has political ramifications. Though Dylan's song “A Hard Rain's A‐Gonna Fall” is often considered to belong to his “protest” phase, there has been little investigation of what sort of musical and communicative structures such generic designations really entail. Though many critics have mentioned the apocalyptic strain in the music of Bob Dylan, and nearly everyone recognizes the influence of Anglo‐American folk music on his early work, this is the first detailed analysis of how Dylan is able to accommodate two such radically different traditions—the biblical imagery and anaphoric lyricisim of apocalypse vs. the hard‐nosed realist narratives of the English ballad—within a single work, and of how this combination allows the three themes of this powerful song: politics, religion, and art, each to contribute its own vision of apocalypse.