Things have changed: the meanings behind Bob Dylan’s song

By Tony Attwood

Dylan’s commentary on being dislocated from the world, while being within it – here but not here – spreads across a multiplicity of his songs. It wasn’t there at the start – Times they are a-changing dripped with a certainty that runs across so many early songs.

The problem with Times though was that that most famous of Dylan songs was itself out of time with the rest of the album which so very clearly said that times were absolutely not changing, and that the horrors of (for example) rural poverty and exploitation, or racism and injustice where stuck within Amercian society and politics.

So how did things change?  Well, only because the singer used to care, but now can’t even be bothered to do that.

Indeed this is what Dylan said so clearly when he got his Oscar – he called it a song that “doesn’t pussyfoot around or turn a blind eye to human nature”.

Of course musically, from the development of his surreal imagery which arrived with his use of rock instrumentation in Dylan’s work, we have found change. But in terms of human nature, from the moment that Hollis Brown pulled the trigger and the night which started playing tricks when you are trying to be so quiet, everything was always falling apart.  There were happy, jolly interludes of Country Pie and the like, but the feeling I get now having had Bob Dylan in my life, throughout almost all of my life, is that when he has written his best works, Dylan has been telling us how it is.  Sometimes caring, sometimes not.

In these songs just how often do we hear him sing “What’s going on?” – either using that phrase or something akin to it. And if ever that line feels like it should be within a song, it is within “Things have changed”.

A worried man with a worried mind
No one in front of me and nothing behind

is enough to make it clear where we are going – or rather to be clear that we have no idea where we are going. And just in case you missed it we find immediately that the singer is talking about a woman “drinking champagne, Got white skin, got assassin’s eyes”.

Assassin’s eyes? What are assassin’s eyes? Of course we don’t know, because she comes from another world – the dislocation is complete, but we are quite sure that one look and that will be it.

Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose

Of course it will – this is not the real world. In this world people come and go, talking but saying nothing. The past has not yet happened yet. The future was yesterday. I am you, you are him, he is not.  TS Eliot kicks his verse into Dylan’s subconscious one more time:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question …

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,


 And of course he should be in Hollywood, be taking dancing lessons, be dressed in drag. He should, because here there is nothing to prove.  But the trouble is, everywhere there is nothing to prove – the yellow fog surrounds everything.

The voice is tired, the accompaniment controlled and well rehearsed, the pulse moderate, no attempt at any sort of virtuoso performance, no unexpected chord changes, because it is not the individual musicians that make the point – the point is the situation, the world gone wrong. In such a world you can hold onto the constancy of the music because there is no other constancy.

Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet
Putting her in a wheel barrow and wheeling her down the street

Of course: where else would you put a woman with assassin eyes as the yellow fog curls all around you, and the cultured classes speak while saying nothing?

And then, just in case we think we have got the hang of this, if we really think maybe something makes sense…

Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake
I’m not that eager to make a mistake

‘Mr. Jinx’ was a cool cat in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Pixie and Dixie. Today Mr Jinx is available as a tooth mug, a ringtone download, a ceramic jug, It is perhaps just a passing moment from the cartoon, or it is the reflection on the fact that both in the original and the current examples Mr Jinx was not real. Except the distinction between real and unreal doesn’t exist. I don’t want to be so unreal that I fall into the lake. Maybe the wheelbarrow was a better idea.

And the music continues, using its three chord routine with simple accompaniment. The singer doesn’t get excited. There is a continuum. It is just that the continuum doesn’t make a blind bit of sense.

And the music continues, using its three chord routine with simple accompaniment. The singer doesn’t get excited. There is a continuum. It is just that the continuum doesn’t make a blind bit of sense.


Postscript added in 2016: if you want to hear a different version of the song try this one

PPS: 2017

There are several versions of Dylan’s acceptance speech, but the one via the link below is really worth watching – and it is followed by a live performance of Things of Changed.

And this is where he thanks the Academy for being “bold enough to gie me this award for this song, which is obviously a song which doesn’t pussyfoot around or turn a blind eye to human nature.”

And for once I am with Heylin when he says, “Ain’t that the truth”.

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.  Also a list of the most read articles on this site.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

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16 Responses to Things have changed: the meanings behind Bob Dylan’s song

  1. Warren says:

    THINGS HAVE CHANGED My interpretation is different. I believe Dylan has given up exposing war and high-level corruption in his lyrics. Why? Firsly because he understands and fears the powers that be are operating covertly now to remove anyone who poses a direct threat to their dogma. He would be a high-profile target these days if he spoke out as he used to. “I’m locked up tight, I’m outta range.” – saying and doing nothing controversial, and thus protecting himself from danger. Secondly, he sounds too tired and old to be passionate about those things he did in the past.

    He’s playing it safe now,and he’s too jaded to care enough about those issues that may put him in danger. “I used to care, but things have changed” Try listening to it with this in mind.

  2. Was talking to a 25 y.o. programmer about his business. He’s in extracting data f/ the net and assembling predictive models f/ it. That means figuring out how to sell you something by what you post. He used the word ‘amoral’ several times as in, “Data models are amoral.”
    Bring up a youtube of Woodstock. Would any of those kids have used that word? No, things have changed. They are gone man.

  3. rich whalen says:

    I think this is mostly a song about Dylan and his muse. He is presented with all this amazing material (a woman on his lap with white skin and assassin’s eyes) and he nails it but despite being “locked in tight” he is “out of range” of his previous superstardom.

    And this hurts, although he just dont show it. Because even a fool knows he’s got nothing to prove.

    And precisely 1 minute after he says “the next 60 seconds are gonna be like an eternity” the song ends.

  4. Babette says:

    doctor: Why have you come today.
    Bob Dylan: Because I am a worried man.
    doctor: What are you worried about.
    Bob Dylan: I dont care anymore. In fact I dont care about anything
    doctor: Yes I heard your last song : “Things have changed”
    Bob Dylan: I feel locked in tight – I am not moving. Whats the matter with me?
    doctor: Nothing. You still wants to dance – so I dont think you are depressed
    Bob Dylan: who says so
    doctor: “Gonna take dancing lessons, do the jitterbug rag”
    Do you remember who said so?
    Bob Dylan: Ok I did.
    doctor: You still have sexual desire.
    Bob Dylan: NO – who says so. They are lying.
    doctor: You did Mr Dylan. Doctor laughs and begins to sing:
    “Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet
    Putting her in a wheelbarrow and wheeling her down the street”
    Bob Dylan: STOP IT – NOW. I came here to get help – but you only make it worse.
    “I hurt easy, I just don’t show it
    You can hurt someone and not even know it”
    doctor: You are not Atlas. You can´t carry the whole world on your shoulders.
    Bob Dylan: Did I say that?
    doctor: No Mr . Dylan. I did.
    Bob Dylan leaving and thinking: People are crazy and times are strange

  5. Babette says:

    The story tells mr. Dylan went directly home.
    Without even taking his gloves off
    he hammered this song into the piano:

    The disease of conceit:

    A yellow paper on the doctors door told the next day:

    —————————free fantasy story ———————————–

  6. Hello Tony, Thank you for posting this interesting essay. Join us inside Bob Dylan’s Music Box and listen to every version of every song composed or performed by Bob Dylan.

  7. Larry fyffe says:

    ‘A Street Car NamedDesire’ movie:
    Please don’t get up, I’ m only passing through.

    Don’t get up, gentlemen, I’m only passing through.
    (Things Have Changed)

  8. KarEnn says:

    Not bad Babette, not bad at all.

  9. KarEnn says:


    But what’s your point? 🙂

  10. KarEnn says:

    My sense of it/him is more like yours.Although to be fair, the article writer does say he thinks BD is burnt out in “Things Have Changed”.

    Also, one tiny thing in the article too … “Mr.Jinx” probably isn’t Jinx the Cat who chased Pixie and Dixie. ( “I hate those meeses to pieces”)
    Because he’s *Jinx* not “Mr. Jinx” if my memory serves me correctly.

    But anyway, thanks for your own comments.

  11. KA says:

    Good points..

  12. LarryFyffe says:

    Dylan looks up Percy Shelley’s “Euganean Hills” : , ie, ‘From the altar of dark ocean/To the sapphire-tinted skies’

    And comes up with:

    “I’m looking up into sapphire-tinted skies”

  13. LarryFyffe says:

    Your memory does not serve you well ….the cat is also known as ‘Mr. Jinx’ in some of the cartoons , and is referred to as such by the meeses.

  14. Michael Thomas says:

    See what you can do with this: There is a bit of foetid folklore that burbled up from the depths of the collective consciousness who knows when, but here goes:

    “I’m Mike the red devil
    I romp and I revel,
    I make me five dollars a day
    I go see Miss Lucy,
    She gives me some pussy and takes my five dollars away.”

    This bit of doggerel is infinately expandable. it can start for example, in a racist accent mimickiing Mexicans ie.

    My name eet ees Pancho
    I work on the rancho…

    But it always ends up the same, in Miss Lucy’s pocket.

    You have to wonder if the verse had any currency in mid to high school in Hibbing, MN.

  15. Mart says:

    This place ain’t doing me any good
    I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood

    He ACTUALLY says:

    This place ain’t doing me any good
    I’m in the wrong town, I set down in Hollywood

    WHOLE different meaning!!”!!

    FFKS: why is everyone getting this wrong????

  16. TonyAttwood says:

    The lyrics given on the official Bob Dylan site are
    “This place ain’t doing me any good
    I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood”
    My understanding is that Dylan hands over the lyric sheet after the recording and it ends up with his publisher, who then uses it. Dylan has said in relation to this song “We went in and played “Things Have Changed” with only an engineer. We did two takes. The first was a New Orleans thing. The second was what you hear. So in about five hours we learned it recorded it, mixed it.”
    Maybe he does change the lyrics as you say, but even listening to it again after you raise this point I am not convinced.
    But supposing he did, on that one take, change the lyrics, who is to say it wasn’t just a slip of the tongue. We simply don’t know.
    Best thing you can do, I would suggest, is write an article on the change of lyrics, and what it implies for the whole song. If you want Untold Dylan to publish it, send it to me:

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