Bob Dylan: “For the times they are a-changin”

by James M. WallThe Times album original version

“For the times they are a-changin”, is a line from the third verse of Bob Dylan’s 1964 classic American protest hymn, released as the title track of Dylan’s 1964 album.

In 1985, Dylan told Cameron Crowe, who was writing cover copy for a later Dylan album:

“This was definitely a song with a purpose. It was influenced, of course, by the Irish and Scottish ballads …’Come All Ye Bold Highway Men’, ‘Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens’. 

I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.” (Wikipedia)

I was reminded of Dylan’s “song with a purpose” while attempting to decipher the reaction to two recent United Nations General Assembly speeches, specifically, one from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and another from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The positive response to Rouhani is startling compared to the surprisingly negative reaction evoked by Netanyahu.  Times are most certainly changing when an Israeli leader is trumped on the world stage so decisively by a leader of Iran.

Bob Dylan’s 1964 poem (sung below in a 1997 clip by Bruce Springsteen) was not intended as a description of what has fully arrived, but is rather an alert to what is now unfolding.

The signs are clear, the times are a-changing.  But as Matthew 16: 2-3 reminds us, the general public is slow to read them:

“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”  

Bob Dylan makes this point with remarkable precision in these lines in the second verse of “The times they are a-changin”. (For a full set of lyrics, click here.)

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’

These words are directed to “writers and critics” whose prophecies are as distorted and uninformed as those of Benjamin Netanyahu, who has just concluded what Phillip Weiss describes as “Bibi’s alienation tour”. On this tour, Weiss notes:

Amazingly, Netanyahu has managed to offend: Charlie Rose, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Roger Cohen, and Ali Abunimah.

Charlie Rose is no MSNBC lefty. He is an establishment media figure from PBS, who is now with the very establishment CBS network. Harris is, well, he is with the American Jewish Committee, a front line AIPAC warrior group.

Roger Cohen is the New York Times columnist who is clearly tired of Netanyahu’s insensitivity to the truth.  Ali Abuminah’s response? Well, that was to be expected. But Rose, Harris, and Cohen?

Weiss describes how Netanyahu riled up leading pro-Israel media establishment figures:

The prime minister did fireside chats with Charlie Rose and NPR.

Rose grew more and more impatient with the prime minister. At minute 33, {of the 53 minute program} he busts Netanyahu over the settlements, as undermining the security of the Jewish state. {click here for the Rose interview}

Rose: You can’t make the case that settlements, which you have continued… are essential for the security of the Jewish state. They may do damage to the security of the Jewish state… The question is, most people want to ask… Why is it necessary… I still don’t understand why you think that building settlements in East Jerusalem is necessary… when the world believes its stand in the way…

Netanyahu: The world believes a lot of things, but the world doesn’t get it.

Rose: I think the American president believes that….They stand in the way of a solution…

Netanyahu: Charlie you’re not going to escape this..I gotcha.

Rose, bristling: No you don’t have me….

David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz about  the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani: 

“Simply implying, for instance, that anyone who sits down with Rouhani is a modern-day Neville Chamberlain or Édouard Daladier won’t do the trick. To the contrary, it will only give offense and alienate.

Roger Cohen has had just about enough of Netanyahu’s “tired Iranian lines”.   He began his column on Netanyahu’s speech at the UN:

Never has it been more difficult for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to convince the world that, as he put it in 2006: “It’s 1938. Iran is Germany.” He tried again at the United Nations this week. In a speech that strained for effect, he likened Iran to a 20th-century “radical regime” of “awesome power.” That would be the Third Reich.

To these troubled respondents, add the name of John B. Judis, who wrote in the New Republic these carefully honed condemnations of Netanyahu.  The most scathing of Judis’ bill of particulars against Netanyahu is his assertion that Netanyahu “echoes” the rhetoric of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Over the next year, Netanyahu could be proven correct in his apocalyptical assessment of Rouhani and the Iranians. But his speech was inflammatory, deeply one-sided, and hyperbolic in its assessment of Iran’s recent history.

If there is a genuine chance for fruitful negotiations between the G5+1 and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program—and President Obama clearly thinks there is—then Netanyahu’s bellicose rhetoric probably made success less likely by giving credence to the fears of Iran’s hardliners.

In its tenor, Netanyahu’s denunciation of Iran and its new president echoed former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denunciation of the United States and Israel before the UN in September 2011.

These are strong signs, to those who will listen, that Netanyahu and his present government’s policies, are no longer selling well on the U.S. media market. 

Change is in the air.  In a touch of diplomatic irony, history will record that the word “change”, in this current moment, originated with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. as I reported in a previous Wall Writings posting:

Before he spoke to the General Assembly, President Rouhani had set the agenda for a thaw in relations, writing that “the world has changed”, in a column published in the Washington Post.

If all of these signs are not sufficient as a warning signal to Israel’s defenders, perhaps the results reported in a recent Pew poll, reported in The New York Times, will alert them to the signs of these times.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, found that despite the declines in religious identity and participation, American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish and have a “strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.”

While 69 percent say they feel an emotional attachment to Israel, and 40 percent believe that the land that is now Israel was “given to the Jewish people by God,” only 17 percent think that the continued building of settlements in the West Bank is helpful to Israel’s security.

When Charlie Rose pounded Netanyahu for his defense of the indefensible settlements, he was speaking for the vast majority of American Jews who do not think the settlements are “helpful to Israel’s security”.

Which brings us back to January, 1964, when Bob Dylan produced his third album, featuring the title song directed both to the defenders of justice and to those who refused to see and act against injustice.

This song, and many more that followed, brought Dylan to a moment in 1997 when he was honored by President Bill Clinton at an event at the Kennedy Center.

At Dylan’s request, his friend Bruce Springsteen was asked to sing “The times they are a-changin”  to the Kennedy Center audience, which included Clinton, his wife, Hillary Clinton, and to Bob Dylan, all seated in box seats.

At the end of this song, take note of Dylan’s hand raised in appreciation to Springsteen, two musical fighters for justice, saluting one another.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Iran, Iran, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, United Nations. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Bob Dylan: “For the times they are a-changin”

  1. Thiha says:

    In 1964 I turned 21 and bought a brand new Martin D-18 guitar to celebrate. I was a Dylan fan and learned the song along with Blow’in in the Wind and A Hard Rains Gonna Fall. I have been playing those songs on that old Martin for near fifty years. And what do you know, it is true the Times They are a Chang’in. O play them almost every week with my fellow Veterans For Peace as we protest drones at General Atomics. “It’s a hard rains gonna fall.”

  2. Fred says:

    Well, Netanyahu’s lust for war with Iran and perpetual demonization of Iran and it’s leaders, make me think of the speck he sees in others eye when the moat is in his own.

    It is Israel that threatens peace with its nuclear and chemical weapons that it refuses to destroy and its insistence that it is allowed to live by rules and privileges that it will not give to others, the same way it treats the non Jews of Israel and Palestine, with apartheid, land confiscations and house demolitions based on ethnicity. Our tax dollars support these crimes.

  3. Samia Khoury says:

    Indeed “the times they are a-changin” and if Mr. Netanyahu is smart enough he will realize he cannot continue to get away with his arrogance for ever. He will not experience all those standing ovations during his speeches any more.

  4. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Excellent article. Thank you, Jim.

    It seems to me that Netanyahu wants to ensure that the US is once more ready to serve Israel’s interests, by destroying Iran, the last country to pose a potential threat to Israel, in spite of Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East.

    Netanyahu figures that, once this is accomplished, Israel can devour, with impunity, the rest of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and parts of Southern Lebanon.

  5. Pingback: The Progressive Mind » OpEdNews - Article: Israel Hides Nukes Behind “Ambiguity” Wall

  6. Mr. Sifri, as always, I appreciate your insights. I’d only add that I suspect that the Zionists’ sights are (again) on the Sinai in addition to the other vulnerable locales you itemize. False flag (anywhere, any time…), anyone?

    Jim, I also appreciate your every commentary and am about to peruse this week’s creation.

    Regards, Bob Stiver, Oahu, Hawaii

  7. Pingback: Peace in the Middle East | TheFlippinTruth

  8. Pingback: The Progressive Mind » Israel Hides Nukes Behind “Ambiguity” Wall | Wallwritings

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