A Changin’?

Bob Dylan

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
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’.

Bob Dylan wrote The Times They Are a’Changin’ in 1963, and it became the archetypical protest song and a rallying call for a generation. It drew on some older Irish and Scottish songs, and even got inspiration from Ecclesiastes and the Gospel of Mark (“the first shall be last”). Dylan wasn’t sure himself if it was the right song for the time. (It’s comforting to find that sometimes even he didn’t understand his songs.) For the youth of the time, however, it spoke to their feelings about Big Government, Big Business, and Big Control by parents. This would all change. The world was going to be different. They would see to it.

A month later, JFK was assassinated, and in the next few years, the US got more firmly involved in the Vietnam War. They couldn’t count on government. Things were ripe for change. Things needed to change. Students started protests. Marches were held, thousands strong. The Civil Rights Movement was underway. We Shall Overcome.

So what happened?

I’ll have to grant considerable success with the Civil Rights Movement, though events like the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin suggest there is still a distance to go– but, hey–they did elect a Black president!

Otherwise?

Student protestors from the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s grew older, cut beards and joined corporate America. Got married, had children, and became the Boomer generation that has probably accumulated more material goods than any generation before them.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize 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’

It’s fifty years later—half a century—and banks and corporations now (or still?) make obscene profits, and when that fails, governments bail them out so they can pay executive bonuses. My bank, RBC, recently notified me that almost every service they offer will either be more restrictive, or cost clients more. Then I read, “The Royal Bank says record earnings in Canadian banking and its insurance arm drove net income 43 per cent higher in the fourth quarter (of 2011) to $1.6 billion. For the year, the country’s largest bank earned a record $6.7 billion — up $918 million or 16 per cent from the prior year.”

I’m proud to have contributed to that. And Mr. Gordon Nixon, President, CEO, and general Grand Poobah of RBC earned some $11,851,900 in 2010. Again I feel proud to have volunteered my assistance. It’s a difficult job to spend that kind of money each year, and I don’t envy him the task. Almost a million a month! Would keep a fella awake at nights.

In some “less civilized” nations, it would be a Call to Arms.

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 is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Our federal government lays off thousands from civil service jobs on the excuse of austerity, while one of their ministers racks up as much as some people earn a month by choosing a three-day stay at the posh Savoy Hotel in London and ordering personal limo service to the moderate hotel she was supposed to book. They debate the purchase of F-35 fighter jets costing $10 billion– or is it $30 Billion– no, maybe it’s $20 Billion? They’re not sure, or at least we’re not. Nova Scotia MLA’s are charged with fraud related to expense account padding. Our power bills go up and up while executives of the controlling company make millions, and Power Corp shareholders are guaranteed returns well above current market levels.

We had the Occupy protestors, struggling to make a difference by camping in tents, tarps and mud in public parks– but where are they now? They don’t seem to be starting up again with the warmer weather. It seems their cry that they were the 99% of Canadians and Americans getting the short end of the financial stick while Big Business raked in the millions was not a cause that lasted. We do have the Quebec students marching and vandalizing, perhaps for just cause, but getting far out of control. While their threatened tuition increases are minor to students in the rest of Canada, Quebec students have added to the conversation the notion that perhaps higher education, preparing people as contributing members of society for a lifetime, should have been free in the first place, rather than a burden that saddles people for life.

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’.

Big Government. Big Business. Big Oil. Big Banks. And more so in the USA: Big War Machine. Tentacles of power reaching too often from one to the other, probably more than we realize. Our fates decided in board rooms.

Bob Dylan. Joan Baez. Peter, Paul & Mary. Pete Seeger. Guitars, Autoharps, and Banjos. Singers? Definitely so (with a bit of reservation about Dylan).

But Prophets?

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’.

I think not.

Bob Dylan now...

2 thoughts on “A Changin’?

  1. We can still make a difference…….albeit in a small way in our daily lives…….but for most of us now in our sixties, limited finances, diminished earning power, if any, and possible declining health limit our power as individuals to make the changes we once envisioned. As a group though we are still the largest number of people in any generation and if we came together with one mind and voice once again maybe we could make the changes. I think however that along the way in our striving we lost the ideal and became emeshed in accumulating just like all generations before us.

    • Certainly we’re a generation focussed on material goods. Storage facilities are growing businesses– we have nowhere to put all our stuff! I wonder if the generations that follow the Boomers will ever accumulate as much…

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