Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren wrote this after reading a book of Native American poetry. The line that caught his attention was "For All We Are Is Dust In The Wind."
This got him thinking about the true value of material things and the meaning of success. The band was doing well and making money, but Kerry realized that in the end, he would eventually die just like everyone else. No matter our possessions or accomplishments, we all end up back in the ground.
Kerry Livgren wrote this song when he was under pressure to write a follow-up to the group's hit, "Carry On Wayward Son
." While playing his acoustic guitar exercises, his wife suggested that putting lyrics to the patterns would yield his hit song. "I didn't think it was a Kansas-type song," he said. "She said, Give it a try anyway. Several million records later, I guess she was right." (for more on the song, check out our Interview with Kerry Livgren
Kansas was almost done writing and rehearsing the Point of Know Return album when their producer, Jeff Glixman, asked if they had any more songs. Livgren reluctantly played this song for his bandmates on acoustic guitar, insisting they wouldn't like it because it was not Kansas. To his surprise, they loved the song and insisted they record it. Livgren then fought against his own song, but was overruled. "Dust In The Wind" became their biggest hit, but Livgren never did think very highly of it. "I tend to like the more bombastic things, like 'The Wall,' he told us.
This slow, acoustic song was not typical of Kansas, whose previous singles included "Carry On My Wayward Son" and "Point of Know Return." It put the band in the position of having their best-known song be one that doesn't reflect their sound.
Kerry Livgren became an evangelical Christian in 1980. He says of his songwriting in the '70s, "I was only expressing my own searching for something," adding, "If you look at my lyrics, even 'Dust in the Wind' is a song about the transitory nature of our physical lives. That falls under the umbrella heading of God."
This was the second big hit for Kansas, following "Carry On My Wayward Son." With two hits under their belt, they were able to headline arena rock shows into the late '70s. Later hits for the band include "Play the Game Tonight" (1982, #17 US) and "All I Wanted" (1986, #19 US).
In the movie Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted go back in time and share philosophy with Socrates, who is impressed when Ted, played by Keanu Reeves philosophizes "All we are is dust in the wind."
This was the first acoustic Kansas song, and perhaps the most famous acoustic rock song ever recorded. The song crossed over to a variety of formats, as Rock, Country, and Adult Contemporary radio stations all played it.
This song was featured in the comedy Old School starring Will Ferrell and Luke Wilson. Frank (played by Ferrell) sings it at Blue's funeral to commemorate the death of the 90 year old fraternity member. (thanks, Aislinn - Hamilton, Canada)
There was one more verse to this song that Livgren wrote, but never recorded.
The song has been covered and featured in thousands of artistic and commercial entities. It was used in an episode of The Simpsons, and baseball player Bernie Williams played a jazz guitar version of this on an album he released in 2003 called The Journey Within.