As he would sing three decades later, “The truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow, let it pass us through.” To reference this lyric is to say Dylan brings to an exposed level the issues which shadow his days; the people’s issues, folks’ problems. Till my limbs grow heavy I will say; this is Dylan’s masterpiece proclaimed. From the opening cord, more announced then the opening rim shot of Highway 61, the listener is pulled by the forth coming content of the album.
All though culturally, segments of the U.S. had relaxed their mores, the python we know as politics, still held its grip. No one really had to “get out of the way, if you can’t lend a hand.” What did change is the speakers recognition of his role and the force of his work. An album which takes itself much more seriously then “The Frewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, and takes the trials of the U.S. and drags them to court.
The daunting circumstance of poverty and death are revealed in songs like ‘Hollis Brown’ and ‘North Country Blues.’ Characters that perish with life circumstances that will live forever. Circumstances like Guthrie, Dylan wants to alleviate. We still to this day deal with such and the economics of dieingfarmland and the shipping out of overseas jobs.
Vietnam and the brutal history of U.S. conquest spurred songs like ‘with God on our Side’. The concept of Manifest Destiny with a flashlight on it, no longer left to growl in the dark. Blood spilled and it’s atrocities forgiven under the presumed grace of a Christian Godhead. ‘Though they murdered six million, in the ovens they fried, the Germans now too have God on their side’, he clearly sings.
Injustice and prejudice uncovered in songs like ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game’ and They Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol’ are just two topical instances of the ramifications of hatred of another at the time. The one remaining song of redemption, ‘When the Ship Comes In”, dreams to erase such unbalanced scales.
To bookend the album, ‘Restless Farewell’ although a lament about “all who have sailed with him”, nearly foreshadows him leaving his contemporaries behind to continually morph and change with the times. At times clearly changing the course of modern language in poetry and lyric in music.
With eyes set forward, it’s as if ‘The Times’ was a punctuating in Dylan’s life. Never repeated he moves on to lyrical mosaics and preposterous tales in his follow up album. That punctuation will stay heartily to time as it does change and hopefully reflect in part, social issues resolved.
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