Authors Note: This essay was written many years ago for a school assignment.
The 1960’s were an intense time to be a young American. So many historic moments happened within such a close proximity of time. Events such as the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War forever changed the lives of young United States citizens. This change was reflected in many different ways. Not only did drug use increase, but many chose to change religions from Protestant faiths to eastern ones such as Buddhism. As change progressed throughout the 1960’s so did the music scene. Singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan began releasing music directly targeting the changes taking place around them. In January of 1964, Dylan published “The Times They Are A Changin’”, a song that focused on change and went down in history as one of the most important songs of the 1960’s.
Bob Dylan has been called the most influential artist of his era. He creatively reinvented rock and roll by adding meaning to his lyrics. Before Dylan’s first music hit the mainstream music scene in 1961 Rock and Roll was typically empty of meaning. Songs performed by groups such as The Beach Boys and The Shirelles tended to be about puppy love and high school romance. Dylan showed that the lyrics in a song could be focused on events happening in the world and even to promote change.
Since the age of 10, Bob Dylan was writing poetry and teaching himself guitar. Throughout high school he created multiple bands and was heavily influenced by individuals such as Elvis Presley and Hank Williams. During 1959 and 1960 Dylan traveled around Madison, Chicago, and New York playing folk music in coffee shops and other small venues. While Dylan was in New York he was signed by John Hammond of Columbia Records. By early 1964 he had released three albums and quickly became the “favorite of the counterculture” (enotes.com).
During the 1960’s, prayer in public schools was deemed unconstitutional, the C.I.A. attacked Cuba in the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy was assassinated, the United States began the Vietnam War, and both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X were killed. Young people during this time had a lot to worry about and the older individuals in power did not want to listen to their concerns. This is commonly referred to as the Generation Gap. Many artists began writing songs in protest to these events and to promote change, Bob Dylan was no different. In 1964 Dylan released The Times They Are A Changin’. The song instantly clicked with the youth of America. It put many people’s thoughts to music by expressing how badly change was needed in the country. The kids born during the Baby Boom had completely different plans for their nation than their parents did and they wanted to make that known.
The song The Times They Are A Changin’ begins by bringing people together for a cause. “Come gather ’round people / wherever you roam / and admit that the waters / around you have grown / and accept it that soon / you’ll be drenched to the bone” (Dylan). The reference to waters is a metaphor for the counterculture change revolution. The song warns the listener that they must be prepared to fight until the end. The lyrics say that the young of the country must accept that they will be drenched with obstacles ahead and that they must make their way through them. The second verse the lyrics read “For the loser now, will be later to win” meaning that the tables would turn. If the youth fought hard enough the times would change.
The youth of America during this time were looking for politicians to help defend their cause. Dylan put into his song words of request to senators and congressmen. He told them that they need to fight and fight all the way. “For he who gets hurt / will be he who has stalled” (Dylan). There could not be any delays or breaks along the way. If the counterculture was to be successful in changing the way things were they would need to be serious, committed, and unwilling to lose. Dylan then let the officials in government know that if they did not help the subculture they would be against them. “There’s a battle outside / and it is ragin’ / it’ll soon shake your windows / and rattle your walls” (Dylan).
After involving the politicians it was time for the parents. Dylan’s lyrics seek a unity between the parents and kids. He wrote that even though they don’t understand they should still support. “Come mothers and fathers / throughout the land / and don’t criticize / what you can’t understand” (Dylan). Dylan lets the parents know that they are no longer in control of their children and they need to let them make their own decisions. He makes it clear that the old way of thinking is out and a new one is in. This could be relating to the use of violence that was being performed by the government during the 60’s.
The overall meaning of this song is to bring people together for a cause. This is clear in the way the phrases are constructed. Four of the five phrases begin with the word “come” and all end with “for the times they are a-changin’”. This pattern helps to bring the song together in a way that makes it easy to remember, easy to recite, and easy to understand. It is no wonder why this song became one of the many theme songs of the counterculture.
“Bob Dylan Criticism.” enotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2009. http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/dylan-bob.
Kingwood College Library. “American Cultural History.” Kingwood College Library. N.p., 1999. Web. 5 Dec. 2009. http://kclibrary.lonestar.edu/decade60.html.
“1960s.” Wikipedia. N.p., 7 Dec. 2009. Web. 6 Dec. 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1960s.
“The Times They Are A-Changin.’” BobDylan.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2009. http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/times-they-are-changin.