Back in December of last year, the auction house Sotheby’s sold Bob Dylan’s original handwritten lyrics for The Times They Are A-Changin’ to a hedge fund manager for $422,500 (full story here). Dylan wrote it in 1963, right around the time of the March on Washington, and a few months before the assassination of President Kennedy, so while its lyrics directly address the new momentum the March gave the Civil Rights Movement, they proved equally applicable to the tumult that followed: what we now call “the ’60s.”
So my first reaction to the sale was a less-than-amused appreciation of its irony; here’s a zillionaire hedge fund guy spending nearly half a million for the lyrics that many of us, who thought back then that we could change the world, used as our blueprint for that change. And, of course, had that change come as we so naively hoped it would, there wouldn’t be nearly so many hedge fund managers out there as there are right now. But there are, and their obscene tax breaks (check it out here) make it possible for them to spend about eight years worth of income for the median US household (yes, eight years) for a sheet of looseleaf paper. A sheet of looseleaf paper with those lyrics on it. Ironic, yes.
But then I started thinking of another Dylan song – Ballad Of A Thin Man. You remember that one: “Something is happening here / And you don’t know what it is / Do you, Mr. Jones.” When that song first came out, I was pretty smug about it – I was one of those in the know and Mr. Jones was the bewildered fool. Now, forty-odd years later, the hedge funds are holding the lyric sheet and I’m Mr. Jones and it’s not a good feeling at all. The times, they have a-changed. The song? true as it ever was. The message? spun around by just about 180º. It’s me on the run now, and I don’t move near as fast as I did back then. Wish me luck.
The video? A marvelous version of The Times They Are A-Changin’ performed by the peerless Nina Simone. Please enjoy.