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)