Loose Thoughts on "Things Have Changed"

"Things Have Changed" framed the name of Bob Dylan's game. No, it wasn't the Academy Award he received for the song he penned for the film Wonder Boys, nor the intriguing music video with Hollywood stars. Instead, "Things Have Changed" endures as one of the finest songs in Bob's catalog because, more than many other songs, it is about his life.

It's not an oddball tale, a tune pulled from an old folk melody, a political song, a romantic song, or a song landmarking a particular situation. Simply put, "Things Have Changed" finds Bob, as he states, "locked in tight/ out of range", wisely eyeballing his career and life over a tight, forbidding acoustic groove. The music here sounds louder and more intense than you'd think, given the absence of an electric guitar. Here, there is no wasted space, just a focused band playing with a wise, world weary older fella breaking it down for the kids.

Sometimes, I like to picture "Things Have Changed" as a heartbreaking graphic novel. It all begins with Bob on his back porch, sitting in an Adirondack chair surveying a night sky so dark it might be a deeper shade of blue (or the sapphire, also the color of the blues). This man is surveying his life with a keen eye for the details, going over lost loves, religious inclinations, journeys taken and places lived. He's telling the world who he is, where he is at, and the events that have haunted his life. We hear all about things he's cared about, and clearly still does, since they're on his mind and he's writing them down. Images float through Bob's mind from the past, as we flip back and forth between the present and years gone by.

In "Things Have Changed", Bob recounts:

Romantic allures, past loves, and relationships (the woman in the song merely reminds him of those he's truly loved, like Louise in "Visions of Johanna" who's presence made it clear that he true love wasn't there).
"There's a woman on my lap drinking champagne"

Dealing with the trappings of fame and public admiration ( Bob's trying to show his humanity here, he's passing through this short life like everyone else).
"don't get up gentleman I'm only passing through"

Wrestling with Christianity, religion, and sacred texts (a clear theme throughout his life is a profound wrestling with God and meaning):
"if the Bible is right the world will explode"

Moving to Los Angeles, and other places that have lived (and stuck with him, from Minnesota to New York and beyond):
"I'm in the wrong town/ I should be in Hollywood"

Masks won both figuratively and literally (here, I was reminded of "Abandoned Love", where he sang "everybody's wearing a disguise/ to hide what they got left behind their eyes"):
"Gonna dress in drag"

Playing live shows and a life of music on the road (here, Bob refers to the moments before taking the stage)
"the next 60 seconds could be like an eternity"

It's all here, packed in a tight 5 minutes-Bob's life read out like a biopic. The refrain- "things have changed"-affirms that this song documents some of the major themes in his life. He may no longer take care of some of these people and places, and may no longer feel a real sense of some of the major emotions he felt over the years, but they're still with him in some way. He hurts easy, but he doesn't show it, and now that he's older he's still hoping to avoid dire situations and emotional danger that will cause even more pain. Here, Bob's hurt is covered up in an intense three chord groove, laid down at our feet in plain sadness.

"Things Have Changed" is profoundly sad and endearingly caring. It constitutes one of Bob's finest offerings. In my book, the song is right up there with Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt", as "Things Have Changed" is Bob's own tale of his life, delivered with the right recipe of complexity and directness. Give it a listen.

Lyrics, "Things Have Changed" by Bob 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 on the last train

Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose

Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose

People are crazy and times are strange

I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range

I used to care, but things have changed

This place ain’t doing me any good

I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood

Just for a second there I thought I saw something move

Gonna take dancing lessons, do the jitterbug rag

Ain’t no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag

Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove

Lot of water under the bridge, lot of other stuff too

Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m only passing through

People are crazy and times are strange

I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range

I used to care, but things have changed

I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road

If the Bible is right, the world will explode

I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can

Some things are too hot to touch

The human mind can only stand so much

You can’t win with a losing hand

Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet

Putting her in a wheelbarrow and wheeling her down the street

People are crazy and times are strange

I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range

I used to care, but things have changed

I hurt easy, I just don’t show it

You can hurt someone and not even know it

The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity

Gonna get low down, gonna fly high

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie

I’m in love with a woman who don’t even appeal to me

Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake

I’m not that eager to make a mistake

People are crazy and times are strange

I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range

I used to care, but things have changed
Copyright © 1999 by Special Rider Music


  1. The tune, chords and some words are taken from Marty Stuart's Observations of a Crow.


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