Dear Straight Dope:
You have fearlessly tackled the prickly issues of porcupine and astronaut sex, but you have avoided the real question of the ages — did Bob Dylan write "Blowin' In The Wind"? About 1971 Mike Royko published a column in the Chicago Daily News asserting that the words to the Dylan classic first appeared in some high school yearbook, and that Dylan purchased not only the rights to the poem, but also the right to claim authorship. What's the Straight Dope?
SDStaff Songbird replies:
How many times must this question be asked?
The answer is: No. The rumor that Bob Dylan bought “Blowin’ In the Wind” from unknown singer Lorre Wyatt started in the early ’60s. The story was simple: Dylan supposedly bought the song from Wyatt and claimed it as his own. The rumor caught fire in the early ’70s when it made Mike Royko’s column in the Chicago Daily News and then Newsweek magazine.
As Dylan once wrote, “Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is.”
What was happening was little Lorre Wyatt took credit for a song Lorre didn’t write, and the rumors were proved totally false. In a 1974 “mea culpa” article in New Times magazine, Wyatt admitted he made the claim to impress his high school singing group.
“In September of 1962, fall of my senior year, I auditioned for the Millburnaires, a perennial singing octet from Millburn High. Ecstatic over making it, I raced to my first rehearsal overflowing with song suggestions like ‘Dona, Dona’ and ‘500 Miles.’
“Several weeks later, I thumbed through the new issue of Sing Out! It was seeded with protest songs which rekindled my songwriting desires. [Note: “Blowin’ in the Wind” did not appear on an album until 1963.] The ideas of one song in particular had an unavoidable impact. They agitated my head, and I made a valiant attempt to find my own words. I scribbled feverishly at my heavy blond desk, pressed by the upcoming Millburnaires rehearsal. But the printed words kept looking better and better, and I couldn’t resist trying to piece the tune together.
“On October 28th, the eight of us were sitting around Don Larsen’s beige-carpeted living room swapping songs. In my pocket were two sets of words — the original and the song I had hoped would grow out of it. My mind see-sawed nervously back and forth between them. Mine wasn’t finished and that song was so good. Maybe I could sing it and not say anything and they’d think I wrote it and be impressed. If they said, ‘let’s sing that sometime,’ that’d be OK. I’d finish my song by then, and they probably wouldn’t remember the original.
“Someone said, Anybody got a song? My hands formed a shaky D chord, and a distant voice began, ‘How many roads…’ Unexpected silence as I finished. WOW! Where’d you get that? Did you write that? (Why not, I thought, nothing will ever come of it…)
“Yes. A rush in my brain as the chasm between the simple and the horrible surreal complex evaporated. That moment my old life ended and a new one began.
“Hey, we gotta do that! We could learn it for Thanksgiving!
“No-no — we can’t — it’s not done yet!
“Thanksgiving Assembly. The ONE time we would do the song. My strictest instructions to everyone were not to mention who wrote it, but Don circumvented that by saying, ‘Here’s a song written by one of the Millburnaires.’ At the end of the Assembly, people streamed backstage. Somewhere the answer slipped out. I became adamant that we would never sing the song again. My head was swirling.
“Next Monday my homeroom teacher asked to see me after school for a ‘just-between-you-and-me’ chat. She wondered why I didn’t want to sing that song anymore. I pulled out the answer that I had been toying with all weekend, and told her that I had sold it. But nothing would abate her curiosity. When she asked, For how much? I blurted out $1,000. Her surprise led me quickly to add that I had given it away, and Where? became C.A.R.E.
“I’d begun to make Pinocchio look like he had a pug nose.”
Wyatt apparently got his nose back in shape, because he did not give up the stage. He went on to perform after his education, including a stint on the Clearwater Project, according to Folk File, A Folkie’s Dictionary.
“Four more springs later,” concludes Wyatt, “my therapist listened in amazement as I unraveled the tale of how I picked, by chance, the song that was to become the crowning expression of the ‘we shall overcome era.’ She remarked supportively, ‘Well … at least you had good taste …’ “
Good thing you had good taste and came to us, js. Yet another answer stopped from blowin’ in the wind.
SDStaff Songbird, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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