T for Tom

Day 3 – The Times They Are a-Changin’ – 1963

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on June 24, 2016

That eternal jeer.

Bob Dylan can say whatever he wants about his music. We know enough about the man 50-years on to seek subtext for his reasons and public opinions. So when he said in 1964 upon the release of this, his third record, that the songs were “just what the people seemed to want to hear,” we know the opposite is true.

Possibly spurned on by increasing success, Times becomes in full what the predecessors were not: shameless opposition. The first record to have all original music was also his most cohesive and clear to date – the times need changing.

The now ubiquitous opening track of the same name sets the stage for a dark, nearly apocalyptic effort full of tales ranging from slave trades to WWII, all bound by the colorful descriptions of how a country’s decisions are each equally earmarked with mistakes. The use of irony and satire are at the storyteller’s fullest exhibition and evoke the only time we can be certain that Dylan displayed, publicly and through his music, who he thought and hoped to be at the outset.

My immediate impression is a man of confidence. Where before he used metaphor and jolly, there is here no more subterfuge. In discussing our society’s empirical exceptionalism, Dylan maps the history of his own youth filled with doubt and second-guessing, “Oh my name means nothing / My age means less / the country I come from is called the Midwest / I’s taught and brought up there / the laws to abide / and the land I live in / has God on its side.”

After exposing the false historical narrative of the Germans as now forgiven, as if the Holocaust never occurred, and similarly deriding our unnecessary opinion of the Russians as enemy, he traverses throughout the record on what we know about black identity, economic inequality, and individual powerlessness. Each still struggles today, discussed here all of 53 years ago.

But I don’t think he yet felt powerless himself. By now he had debuted with Joan Baez at New York’s Town Hall and appeared on the BBC. His music, in all its forms, was giving him platform.

I suspect he had a combination of being too ahead of his time, and tragically too cynical to see it out. And I know that his next record just a year later is titled Another Side of Bob Dylan. It probably is after all too much a burden to be the only one who sees so clearly, and have no one listen. And so he changes.

Song: With God On Our Side

I mean, seriously: “The First World War, boys / It came and it went / The reason for fighting / I never did get / But I learned to accept it / Accept it with pride / For you don’t count the dead / When God’s on your side.”

The playlist now features each song from the records, including Tomorrow Is A Long Time from his unreleased demos prior to the debut album.


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