Remembering the March on Washington: Dylan and Baez

The 50th anniversary remembrance of Dr. King‘s famous March on Washington raised some questions. Kevin Drum (and Chris Matthews) wondered why the Republican party, despite much effort, could not find a single speaker willing to be associated with Dr. King, the great black man who spoke for justice and equality.

And ever-thoughtful Randy Lewis for the Los Angeles Times’ pop music blog wondered why no singers or musicians comparable in stature to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez back in the day could be found on the dias.

Good questions both. Reminds this listener of what Joan Baez said about the first song she and Dylan sang that day, When the Ship Comes In, In a 2005 documentary about Dylan, No Direction Home, directed by Martin Scorcese, Baez said that it came out of an episode when a nice hotel (where she had been booked) wouldn’t give Dylan a room because he looked scruffy. He stormed off and wrote the song in a single night. In a rage, she added, but he turned that to good use in the lyrics:

A song will lift

As the mainsail shifts

And the boat drifts on to the shoreline

And the sun will respect

Every face on the deck

The hour that the ship comes in

Then the sands will roll

Out a carpet of gold

For your weary toes to be a-touchin’

And the ship’s wise men

Will remind you once again

That the whole wide world is watchin’

In the documentary Dylan said he had no idea he wrote an anthem with “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  If true, that means that anthems (and great turns of phrase, like “the whole world is watching,” a chant from the demonstrations and police riot in Chicago in l968), came naturally to him, that dang genius. 
Despite the crude recording and staging, his performance with Baez and other folks singers that day before hundreds of thousands of people is quite moving. And i’ts amazing that he had just written these tough songs, one on tour with civil rights marchers in the South, some of which he hadn’t even recorded. 

Which is not to overlook MLK and his incomparable “I have a dream” speech, available not in video but in a transcript, with so many memorable turns of phrase, such as:

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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