The Times They Are A-Changin'

Bob Dylan, 1963

What is the mood of this song? Why was Dylan angry? Who is he angry at? How would you summarize the message of this song in one sentence?

What were the parents criticizing about their sons and their daughters? Why couldn't they understand?

How were the times changing when this song was written? Aren't the times always changing? What was different about the 1960s, if anything?

What was the "Generation Gap"? What did young people mean by "Don't trust anyone over 30"? Was the Generation Gap something new or had it always existed? Does a Generation Gap exist today? Why?

What metaphors does Dylan use to describe how times were changing? Flood, wheel, battle. What literary allusions can you find?

Why do you think the folk music community criticized Dylan when he started to use the electric guitar in 1965?

What songs today express the same message and mood as "The Times They Are A-Changin'"?

"The Times They Are A-Changin'" performed by Bob Dylan on The Essential Bob Dylan, New York: Columbia [C2K85168], © 2000. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

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Sheet music cover for "Times They Are A-Changin'."

Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1941. He changed his name, adopting the name of the poet Dylan Thomas, when he began performing in coffeehouses in Greenwich Village in 1962. He had moved to New York in 1961 and spent time with Woody Guthrie, who was hospitalized with Huntington's chorea, the disease that would claim his life. Dylan became a major contributor to the folk scene in Greenwich Village, where his songs were compared to Guthrie's and Pete Seeger's. Joan Baez began recording his songs and taking him on tour.

Dylan's style changed several times during his career, from folk to popular to rock. "The Times They Are A-Changin'," the most famous of Dylan's songs from his "folk" period, was written during a time when his songs were turning intensely political. While his old friends in Minneapolis were advising him to "steer clear" of protest music, Dylan argued that the message was more important than the music.

"The Times They Are A-Changin'" has been described as "apocalyptic" with numerous references to the Bible. Most notable is the New Testament allusion, "Many who are first will be last, and the last, first" (Mark 10:30, Matthew 19:27). Although this is one of his most popular and best crafted songs, Dylan avoided performing it after the assassination of President Kennedy. In 1965 the song became a favorite of students and pop audiences who heard the lyrics as a statement of the ever-widening generation gap. The song was adopted by the civil rights movement, as well.

Ask an adult who was in his or her teens or twenties in the 1960s to talk about the feelings they had then about the older generation and the memories this song brings up. Ask if they think times really did change in the 1960s and whether the change was for better or worse. After asking permission, write down the stories to share.