Dylan: Things Have Changed Or Have They?
By Larry Fyffe
‘Things Have Changed’ by Bob Dylan references The Threepenny Opera, a satirical musical on self-interest, about money-hungry capitalists and left-behind poor folks endeavouring to follow the footprints of the golden calf, saddled as it is with the dog-eat-dog morality of diamond-fingered cowboys.
Dylan considers greed inherent in ‘human nature’, but alludes to Woody Guthrie who sings about the plight of the poor under an economic system that dresses up private profit in the robes of religion:
I went across the river and I laid down to sleep
When I woke up I had shackles on my feet….
I asked the judge, “What’s gonna be my fine?”
Twenty-one years on the Rocky Mountain Line….
The train pulled out, twenty-one coaches long
And the woman I love is on that train and gone
It takes a worried man to sing a worried song
I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long
(Woody Guthie: Worried Man Blues)
The traditional folksong does not lose all hope for the poor immigrant, finding a Romantic happy ending, though it may be by death only. The over-greedy rich may not be so lucky, sings Dylan:
A worried man with a worried mind
No one in front of me and nothing behind
There’s a woman on my lap and she’s drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin’s eyes
I’m looking up into the sapphire tinted skies
I’m well dressed, waiting for the last train
Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose….
Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake
I’m not that eager to make a mistake
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)
Referring to John Milton’s “Wherefore with thee/Came not all hell broke loose?”
While Jinx’s cat-and-mouse game makes life out to be a joke, Bob Dylan’s been through all that and prefers the more realistic lyrics of poet Francois Villon that are included in the Threepenny Opera and the ironic word-play of the musical with its Miss Lucy Brown:
They tell you the best of life is mental
Just starve yourself and do a lot of reading
Up in the garret where the rats are breeding
Should you survive, it’s purely accidental
(Villon: Ballad Of The Easy Life)
Assassin knives are flashing and the hangman’s rope a-swinging in the work of Brecht and Weill:
Oh, Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Yes, that line is forming on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town
(Bobby Darin: Mack The Knife)
Dylan has sympathy and empathy for those who hold a losing hand, but not for those who take advantage of the downtrodden whether the exploiter is already living at the top of the hill or trying to get there by harming others:
The witchcraft scum exploiting the dumb
Turns children into crooks and slaves
Whose heroes and healers are real stoned dealers
Who should be put in their graves
(Hand Of The Band)
A theme long expressed by Bob Dylan:
William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger….
In the courtroom of honour, the judge pounded his gavel
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence
(The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carrol)
No longer a poor boy, Dylan reminds himself and the well-off that money, without pity for others, will not save their souls:
I’ve been walking down forty miles of bad road
If the Bible is right, the world will explode
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)
Explode, if not in the literal then in the figurative sense.
You might also enjoy:
- Bob Dylan in 1998/9: the road to the Oscar
- Things have changed: the meanings behind the song
- The Line Forms On The Right: Bobby’s Back In Town. Dylan & the Threepenny Opera
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