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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blowin' in the Wind

When I was about fourteen, I stopped taking violin lessons and switched to the guitar. At that time, I think there was no choice between classical or pop, or between Spanish or electric guitar; if you took guitar lessons, you bought a Spanish guitar and learned to play classical music. But I was lucky to have as my teacher Dries Lubach, who realized that, apart from playing the etudes of Emilio Pujol, it might be attractive for kids my age to also learn to read chord schemes and play basic finger-picking patterns by means of such songs as House of the Rising Sun and Blowin' in the Wind.

When I started playing in folk bands after having lessons for I guess six months, we of course started with a repertoire consisting of House of the Rising Sun, Blowin' in the Wind and all those other songs we learned for didactic reasons. But it did not take long before we realized - or were made to realize by other, slightly more advanced musicians - that such a repertoire was not considered a serious repertoire. We were introduced to the pecking order of the music genre, meaning that some songs were so widely known that they had become, in a way, forbidden territory; they were too popular, too often played, to be taken seriously. In Irish music scenes The Wild Rover and Whiskey in the Jar are the examples; classical violinists will maybe not play Zigeunerweisen unless they want to please the audience, but in front of other violinists they are bound to apologize for playing it. Every genre will have such out-corners of the repertoire, I guess; an interesting phenomenon in itself, connected to the idea that too well-known and too popular is an indicator of too simple and too little quality.

As I wrote before, I have never been 'into' Bob Dylan until about a year ago. I now listen intensely to a greatest hits CD, and it starts off with Blowin' in the Wind. And every time I hear it I realize that it is far from 'too simple' and 'too little quality'. On the contrary, I am amazed how it is possible that a guy aged 21 was able to write a song with such great lyrics, and to sing it with a determination so deep that I cannot do anything else than put the CD player on 'repeat' and have Bob Dylan again and again ask me the unanswerable questions in his song while I drive to a rehearsal of one of my bands in the North of my beloved Groningen province - a band which would never even think of putting Whiskey in the Jar, The Wild Rover or Blowin' in the Wind on its repertoire.

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