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Change the Times

September 25, 2016

In my rare downtime, I have been rediscovering some of the music of my youth. I guess I should point out, though, that some of it is actually the music of my parents’ youth.

A few weeks ago, my wife and daughter bought me a record player for my birthday. I immediately went to the garage, pulled out the crate of records so that the teenager could mock us.

It’s one red milk-style crate, and it’s packed very tightly with our vinyl. It’s also a musical catalog frozen in time at about 1990, which was the last time either of us bought a record. It has everything from Led Zeppelin to Grandmaster Flash to Rush and the Thompson Twins. It may or may not even have Urban Chipmunk.

born-in-the-usanot-val-kilmercarlinseriously-this-one-was-hers-not-mineSurprisingly, everything I’ve played out of the crate has still sounded good. Even better, most of what my 16-going-on-17 daughter has pulled out to sample, she has loved. Billy Joel. The Doors. The Beatles. Fleetwood Mac. These aren’t entirely new friends for her; she’s been subjected to my tastes in
the car for years now.

I know that she likes some of my old music. I just didn’t know how much. For example, she thought the double album soundtrack from the movie Amadeus was pretty cool. (So did my high school students back in the day when I would play it for them. Or so they told me.)rock-me-amadeus

I also didn’t know she’d like Bob Dylan. That was a happy surprise.

I found myself home alone today for a while cleaning and doing laundry while watching football. I decided that rather than listen to the announcers, I would listen to Bob Dylan. I’ve had this greatest hits album since I was in high school, but the songs are from when my parents were teenagers. I love every song on the record, and I even went to see Dylan play at the Zoo Amphitheater in Oklahoma City back in college. He mostly played new stuff, which isn’t what any of us were there to hear. He closed with a 15 minute version of Like a Rolling Stone, though, and it was fabulous.

dylanI don’t know why I haven’t upgraded most of what I own on record to my iTunes library. I guess it’s just one of those things that slips your mind. Because of that, and because I haven’t had a working record player for a while, I haven’t really thought about the words to some of my favorite songs for a while, either.

The words to The Times They Are a Changin’ really stuck with me today. We’re dealing with so much pain in this country, for so many reasons. I see people posting simplistic solutions to those problems on social media or explaining away injustice. It’s something that Dylan discussed more than 50 years ago:

Come gather ’round people where ever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a’ changin’!

One thing the song made me remember is the faux documentary Bob Roberts, which also came out when I was in college. It starred Tim Robbins as a conservative folk-singing politician who was also something of a demagogue. Something about life imitating art comes to mind. He actually had a song in the movie called Times are Changin’ Back. It’s a brilliant movie, if you haven’t seen it.

bob roberts.jpg

Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen
And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a’ changin’!

The song is a warning to us. During the 60s, Dylan was mostly writing about Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. Yes, so much has changed. Still, we’ve clearly not solved all those problems.

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a’ changin’!

I was born in 1970, so I missed all of the window rattling. All I have now are man-made earthquakes. My knowledge of the era is historical; surely it contains major gaps. Dylan is imploring those of us in positions of power either to lead the social changes that are coming or get out of the way.

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
For the times they are a’ changin’!

I used to use the second line of the verse above as a writing prompt for my students. They came up with great examples of how their parents and teachers (including me) didn’t grasp how the world had changed. And no, I never asked them to write about the third line. I wasn’t trying to create rebellion at home.

What I was really going for was that students would have an understanding that teen frustration at adults is timeless and universal. Surely they got that, right?

The line it is drawn the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a’ changin’!

It’s a great song. It’s a fascinating era, and one in which I sometimes imagine I would have been a better fit. We really have come a long way since the 60s in terms of how we deal with race and poverty as a country. We just haven’t come far enough. Nor can we stop.

Another Dylan song on the album made me stop in my tracks at one point. I won’t post the whole song here, but the second verse of Blowin’ in the Wind contains several lines we need to remember:

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

When I see #blacklivesmatter protests, I just wonder how many times some of us can turn our heads and pretend that we just don’t see. I’m a white guy who grew up in a suburban household that had two adults with advanced degrees. All four of the children who grew up there graduated from college, three with doctorate degrees.

I have a bad habit of driving with a sense of urgency. I frequently get to visit with members of the law enforcement community. I’m always treated well.

The truth is that most police officers treat all people well. Those who work in diverse communities understand that having good relationships with all people is one of the best ways to help them do their jobs effectively.

I can acknowledge that and still sympathize with those among us who don’t feel that their lives and voices are as important. I know my background. I also know my limitations. Just because it’s not my pain doesn’t mean I don’t feel the hurt. Nor am I in any position to tell any member of any group how to feel.

I just can’t turn my head and pretend I don’t see anything.

  1. Graham Johnson
    September 26, 2016 at 7:35 am

    Great post. I saw Bob Dylan in concert three times in the late 90’s. It was right after he released “Time Out Of Mind” (such a great album). Shortly after the shows, my brother and I got tattoos of one of the songs from the record. A prolific singer/songwriter with a few misfires in the 80’s.

    And on topic – while yes, most police officers treat all people well, the law enforcement system itself has serious issues. The militarization of the police over the last three decades and the dissolution of community policing has created an “us versus them” mentality. Dangerous.


  2. CarrieG
    September 26, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    “Driving with urgency” I LOVE it! I’m going to use this when my husband complains about my driving…


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