from 11 Outlined Epitaphs (album liner notes)
I end up then
in the early evenin’
blindly punchin’ at the blind
an’ blowin’ up
where t’ go?
what is it that’s exactly wrong?
who t’ picket?
who t’ fight?
behind what windows
will I at least
hear someone from the supper table
get up t’ ask
“did I hear someone outside just now?”
The Times They Are A-Changin’ and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan have a lot of similarities. They are both primarily acoustic, mostly Dylan accompanying himself on guitar. Several songs on Times have a close cousin on Freewheelin’. Boots of Spanish Leather sounds very much like Girl of the North Country. Restless Farewell carries on the theme found in Bob Dylan’s Dream. The title track is similar to the abstract poetry and politically charged imagery of Blowin’ in the Wind. These similarities are not altogether surprising since there was only a three-month gap between the last session of Freewheelin’ and the first session for Times, the shortest gap in Dylan’s career.
The quote above from 11 Outlined Epitaphs is telling. Dylan seems to have decided, albiet only for a very short while, to take a stab at being the political “voice of his generation” that many of his fans wanted him to be. Or perhaps for once Dylan’s desires and those of his fans happily coincided. At any rate, Times contains the most overt “finger-pointing” songs Dylan would ever write. Never again would he include as many politically conscious songs on a single recording. Dylan said during a conversation with Paul Nelson, the editor of the Little Sandy Review, that politics were an essential part of popular song. I doubt he would say that now.
Although Times contains many wonderful songs, it’s the least satisfying of his major recordings. Tim Riley, the author of Hard Rain, says that Dylan sounds like a “self-absorbed grad student”, exhibiting “folkie social preening and black and white moralism”. While I can see where Riley is coming from – Restless Farewell is perhaps a bit self-absorbed and a couple of the finger-pointing songs are perhaps overly simplistic – I think he far, far overstates the case.
I don’t think the lyrics are the ‘problem’ with the record. On the contrary, Times, Chimes of Freedom, and Boots are some of Dylan’s finest lyrics. Instead, I find the overall somberness of the recording a bit overwhelming. It’s not a record I pull out and play in its entirety very often. But the real ‘problem’ – and it is arguably the only time it occurred in Dylan’s career – is that the quality of the performances does not match the quality of the songs. Dylan’s performances on Times, with a couple of significant exceptions, are a bit, I don’t know, plodding.
But all that is mere quibbling. Times is obviously one of Dylan’s major works.