Maybe the times aren’t a-changin’

For us aging baby boomers, there’s nothing quite so validating as our popular culture being embraced by other generations, even if we have nothing to do with it.

Such is the genius of Bob Dylan. He’s pretty much all we’ve got left.

“It was people who felt like they were in a battle,” Anthony DeCurtis, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, says in NPR’s latest installment looking at songs that have become American anthems. “And, you know, you can go back to the ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ ‘ for that: The line has been drawn, the curse has been cast. You really felt you had to stand on one side or the other.”

Sound familiar? That’s rather the point; Dylan’s anthem is as relevant now as it was then.

Matt Malyon was born in 1971. He was in his 20s before he discovered Bob Dylan. “There was a budget tape, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, in Tower Records,” he recalls. “A cassette tape, if you can remember that technology.”

Malyon thinks “The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” is more relevant now than ever. He teaches writing to teenagers in Seattle, many from immigrant families. When he played this song for his students he thought they would like the poetry of the lyrics. Instead, they were caught up in the meaning of the words.

“When I made reference to, this song coming out of the ’60s, and [being] about the ’60s, there were some blank stares. And yet, the song spoke to them,” he says. “They see these words as living. It’s not something anchored to the ’60s, it’s something live, and now. And I think that ties to the timelessness of the piece.”

When thousands of young people descended on the National Mall earlier this year for the student-led March For Our Lives, Jennifer Hudson ended the event with an emotional rendition of the song, backed up by the local Destiny Road Choir.

It’s been 50 years since Dylan wrote his anthem. NPR’s Lynn Neary figures it lasts because it’s an anthem of hope, rather than looking at the past.

Even if its staying power indicates that sometimes, the times don’t change.

More Boom: Paul Simon Closes Out Farewell Tour With Euphoric Hometown Show (Rolling Stone)

  • Guest

    THIS is why art matters. Good art can speak to many generations. See Shakespeare.

    Timeless concepts such as “the road not taken” and laments are appreciated by many.

  • MrE85

    I warmed to Dylan late, but I warmed.

  • Jim in RF

    And now he’s got his own line of bourbon. Crass mercantilism. They’re selling postcards of the hanging.

    • Rob

      As mercantilism r us, I’m looking forward to Zimmie’s next holiday album. Nobody kills the Christmas classics better than The Nobel Laureate.

  • The Resistance

    Bob Dylan’s “genius” has always escaped me.

    I find most of his lyrics to be obtuse, ambiguous, and pretentious.

    His voice speaks for itself. Unfortunately.

    And his personality is grating, as I’m sure the Nobel committee can atttest to. Why they chose to honor him with the same prize they gave to Garcia Marquez, Steinbeck and Munro is completely beyond me. I sense regret.

    Every time The Current obsessively and worshipfully plays his music and reminds us that he’s a hometown boy, I reach for the mute button. But to each her or his own.

    • John

      I used to be on board with that. His duet with Johnny Cash when they sang “Girl From the North Country” really turned me around. Not many people can hold their own with Johnny, and Dylan did a great job. I still don’t care for a lot of his work, but I now enjoy a great deal of it, and appreciate his skill.

      I don’t consider him a hometown boy the way many do. He was from here (my parents knew his parents, a buddy of mine dated one of his exes – I’m from near Hibbing), but not OF here. I’m no Prince fan (just not my bag), but he was OF here – came back and really was part of the state. Dylan left for NYC, and never really looked back (though I hear he’s spotted every so often on the range, coming back to visit, over the last few years).

      • The Resistance

        I agree with you completely on “Girl From the North Country”. There are a few other songs of his that I also like a lot. I just bristle when he is treated like a musical and literary demigod. And did you know he’s from Hibbing?

        • John

          Hibbing, you say? Is that near Ely?

    • boB from WA

      Well everyone’s gotta serve someone…

    • ec99

      The selection of Dylan was one of a parade of gaffes made by the Nobel Committee for over a century. Rejected were Miguel de Unamuno, Graham Greene, and Jorge Luis Borges. Instead there were surrogates: Jacinto Benavente (mediocre Spanish playwright), William Golding (one-hit wonder), Vicente Aleixandre (unknown Spanish poet). To name but three examples.

  • ec99

    Dylan is the one guy I can think of that other people’s covers of his songs are better than his: P P & M, the Byrds, Baez, et al.

  • Jay T. Berken

    Dylan’s song can be so right but so wrong on how one falls on a subject(s).

    “Then you better start swimmin’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone”

    “For the loser now
    Will be later to win”

    “Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command”

    “And the first one now
    Will later be last”

    The last couple of lines in the his stanzas before the “For the times they are a-changin'” line is what gives me as a person the hope that things will change to better our ills. But there are two tracks to each story, there is a winner and loser to each story, so the phases “for the loser now, will be later to win”, “and the first one now, will later be last” has be portrayed in the yin and yang of Toaism for centuries. So my ill may move forward, resentment is to follow and another ill may pop up. Be careful what you ask for.

    • ec99

      One music critic has likened the narrative voice to that of an Old Testament prophet, and the use of antithesis as reminiscent of Ecclesiastes 3:1.

      The times didn’t change. The sons and daughters became their parents, and went to work for Wall Street and Fortune 500 companies.

      For those 50 years senators and congressmen have stood in the doorway and blocked up the hall.

      • Jay T. Berken

        “There is a time for everything,
        and a season for every activity under the heavens”

        I guess I don’t see it, but I’m not good on my scripture. This looks to me that things happen at the right time. It is taking a passive track on events.

        I take the song more of a shot across the bow Like in your example of children being like their parents. I see nothing of that:

        Come mothers and fathers
        Throughout the land
        And don’t criticize
        What you can’t understand
        Your sons and your daughters
        Are beyond your command
        Your old road is
        Rapidly agin’.
        Please get out of the new one
        If you can’t lend your hand

        I see, parents, you may think you know what is going on in your child’s life, but you seriously do not have a clue. Parents can’t see their own life experiences as their child’s are because they are completely different (or the same in instances). So parents take heed, life a lot of times are a young persons sport. So your child may become their parents, but it is under complete different circumstances.

        “For those 50 years senators and congressmen have stood in the doorway and blocked up the hall.”

        Yup, “Then you better start swimmin’
        Or you’ll sink like a stone”

        The current sediment of privilege and bravado the U.S. is displaying that we can isolate and cut ties with our allies much less the world will sink us.

        • ec99

          I should have included subsequent verses:

          born/die
          reap/sow
          love/hate
          embrace/refrain from
          etc.

          • Jay T. Berken

            “History does not repeat, it rhymes” – Mark Twain

            Love, war, cultural shifts and life happens. There are people who are winners and others that are losers and then the winners to losers and losers to winners. I see his song not about an individual, but economics of life. The heed to the call is to understand this and moderate because it can swing right back at you.

          • ec99

            Poetry is in the mind of the beholder. Critics came up with a great symbolic interpretation for “The Road Not Taken.” Frost replied it meant what it said: A walk in the woods and a fork in the road.

          • Jay T. Berken

            “Poetry is in the mind of the beholder.”

            I agree. You interpret Dylan’s song your way; I interpret it mine.