Bob Dylan: A tonic for tough times

Once you’ve heard Bob Dylan’s words, it’s hard to get them out of your head.

If you came of age in the Sixties or the Seventies, you grew up not only with the words, but with the melodies, and they became the refrain of the times, with a meaning that still has meaning today. He is still touring, no doubt still attracting new fans.

They were tough and uncertain times 50 years ago, at least as difficult as today’s politically-charged and divisive scene. The issues may have been different, but no less disturbing. The political climate was in flux, the populace no more united.

Bob Dylan, through his haunting music, was a force that brought a kind of hope to a generation  with reason to believe that they were living through “the worst of times.” They wanted change, and they wanted it then.

“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’!”

This year is shaping up to be a year to remember. The questions may be: Will we? Should we? Can we learn something? Current events may rival some of the best and worst dramas of all time. There is certainly some comedy and a full measure of pathos.

Storms and crises of all varieties plague us. It is hyperbole to claim that the events of our times have never before been experienced. History sends a different message. But these are difficult days, the kind that try our souls and test our patience

Wisdom and optimism seem in short supply. There is too much talk, ample anger, a dearth of compassion and understanding, too little action and, seemingly, not much hope. We also seem to be moving in at least 100 different directions, just as it was in the 1960s when Dylan’s music, reflecting the times, ranged from folk to protest to blues, from love songs to social commentary to rock and roll.

Today it feels like there is little to sing about, and less to celebrate.

Fires and hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, airline crashes, speeding trains and exploding smart phones, polluted water, tainted food and “bad air,” pestilence and disease, sports scandals and terrorist attacks, bizarre crimes and notable criminals, senseless violence on our streets and in our schools, a contentious political primary and an even more unpredictable campaign leading up to the presidential election.

This is our world. Not such a pleasant scene. Who isn’t looking forward to a better, more balanced 2017?

Let me forget about today until tomorrow.” [2]

It’s hard to face our troubles with equanimity and a clear mind. The necessary balance is hard to find.

But the news on Thursday made me smile. I wanted to sing!

It came as a surprise that a young man from Hibbing, Minnesota, who grew up writing the protest songs that inspired an angry generation, has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. For literature, of all things. The music came flooding back to me, and I’ve been humming familiar tunes and repeating favorite lines all day.

Maybe there really is reason for hope?

In the end, that may be the message. Thank you, Bobby Dylan, for teaching us that we have all been here before, as a nation and as a world – not exactly in the same place, but in the same “neighborhood.” There are many similarities: The 1960s, the 1940s, and the teen years of the 20th Century. Looking back further, it’s impossible to study the past and not realize that every generation faces hard times.

It’s just that these are our hard times, and we take it personally!

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

Dylan’s words and his music express the uncertainty of his age, and of ours.

After a career than spans five decades, he has been recognized in a way that, I am certain, even he never dreamed. His words and his music were not always hopeful; sometimes they were disturbing. They express doubt, anger, regret, irony.

He speaks of love and loss and the human condition. He rails against injustice, against the status quo and against God. He was not universally acclaimed then, nor is he now. But he has, like fine wine, aged well. His poetry – and that’s exactly what his words are, whether set to music or not — is at least as pertinent now as it was during the turbulence of the early 1960s. The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy compared Dylan to Homer, saying that both wrote poetry that was “meant to be listened to,” as well as read. That’s fine company to be in. That’s an even better reason to play the music.

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’! [4]

With a little help from the likes of Bob Dylan, we made it through those previous uncertain years. We can again.

”Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me.” [5]


[1] “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” 1964

[2] “Mr. Tambourine Man,” 1965

[3] “Forever Young,” 1974

[4] “The Times They Are a-Changin’”

[5] “Mr. Tambourine Man”

About Adrienne Cohen

For more than a decade, Adrienne has been a freelance writer specializing in travel, food and drink, small business, urban agriculture, entrepreneurship, home design and decor, construction and real estate topics. Her bylined work has been featured in numerous print and online publications in this country and internationally. Read and follow her at, or follow her here to get her thoughts on current events, modern life and the complexities of living in a fast-changing world.
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