Music has a remarkable ability to connect a person to memories and emotions. Hearing tunes probably is good for us. Studies say listening to music engages broad neural networks in the brain. Recently I plugged in a CD (yes, I still listen to those) and popped in a Dylan album. I was immediately plunged into a sentimental voyage back to days when wild parties were fun and people’s politics were more important than the size of their bank accounts.
As the CD rolled on, I first became uneasy, then upset. Instead of a shimmery, warm blanket of nostalgia, anxiety welled up. The words were replete with messages, cautions, insights. The memories they resurrected were of marches, demonstrations, agitated arguments. “The Times They Are A-Changing” was the most poignant to me.
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.
Did Dylan really believe his lyrics? Did I? I certainly claimed I did not; even then I was posing as a cynic. But as I hear the song again, and anguish wells up in me, I realize that I never acknowledged I’d been silently hoping all those years ago the times were changing. Now at the distance of decades, I shake my head at my own naiveté.
If anything, we seem to be regressing to much worse earlier times, in which people felt free to say anything they wanted and threaten anyone who didn’t agree with them. In which leaders bragged for taking advantage of those poorer, weaker, more disadvantaged. A period when evil could be implemented with impunity because it was the law, and no one questioned whether the law was good or bad. Robber baron industrialists were touted as heroes. Native American children were exiled to schools that only taught the white man’s history, and many groups of immigrants or ethnicities could only hope for the lowest, most degrading employment.
I thought about the advances I believed our country was making all that long time ago in the 60s and 70s— reducing discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and income; improving the education and health of the general populace; speaking out loud and clear about malevolent practices as we identified them be those environmental, legal, or social. Many of these were driven by Dylan’s insights and expression.
Nowadays, not only are we not treading water or staying even with social change, we’re sinking swiftly into a morass of inhumanity, ineptitude, and immorality, as children die on our borders, families are ejected from homes and jobs, talented students can’t afford to get advanced education, and the grossest tirades and accusations are leveled irrationally by our leaders.
Dylan may be a musical and literary genius. Makes no difference to the validity of his works. It’s time to return to yesteryear, and strengthen our consciences and wills. It’s past time to crack out these protest songs by Bob Dylan and others once again to inspire, enrage, and toughen our resolve. The least we’re required by good sense and conscience to do is be aware of what we’re losing. Perhaps we can resuscitate our collective integrity, pester ourselves to action. Once we do, I’ll decide if I should hunt down another pair of rose-colored glasses so I finally can convert to a full-fledged optimist.