The times, they are a-stayin’ the same

The present now will later be past.

—Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’

I think history, at least to me, provides some comfort of knowing that you’re not the first person, or first generation, to have gone through something — others have struggled and survived.

I write this because I can’t get the opening credits sequence from the Watchmen movie out of my head, easily the best part of an otherwise somewhat disappointing film. The damn sequence has stuck with me, especially the song, and I think my fellow Gen X’ers will drum me out of the union when they hear it’s Baby Boomer icon Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” It’s haunting — a haunting song to go with a haunting sequence, because the sequence presents an alternative — but not so alternative as to be unfamiliar — history of the United States since 1940 up until the mid-’70s. (Leave it to an over-marketed adaptation of the most influential graphic novel of all time to finally reveal the significance of Dylan’s song to this Gen X geek. But I digress).

I introduce this as a way to try to understand what we’re going through now — no, not damaged superheroes, or even the history (or alt-history) depicted in that five-minute sequence, but rather, an idea of the past as prologue. If we accept that we’re now in the New Depression, what did people my age do in 1929, in 1932, in 1941, and in 1945? What appealed to them, musically, stylistically? What movies did they watch? What themes did their novelists write about?

Obviously, we know these answers. But I wonder if they parallel what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, now, in a changing world. Is there reassurance in that? If not a guidepost, then at least a flickering but persistent flashlight, a sign that we’ll emerge from this tunnel?

If 2009 is akin to either 1929 (the year of the crash) or 1933 (FDR’s first year in office) — for this conversation, whether the answer is 1929 or 1933 doesn’t make a difference here, just pick one, or any year in that four-year span for that matter — then what did people my age do that year? What were their hopes, dreams, fears, likes and dislikes? Where did they wind up?

I turn 37 this year. I really want to understand the worldview as seen by someone born 37 years before the 1929–1933 span — born in between 1892 or 1896, inclusive. My baby turns 3 this year. What will the world hold for him? What did the world hold for a child born in 1926 or 1930?

And understanding that, and understanding those Americans’ struggles, makes life these days both more comforting and more worrisome.

Comforting, because Americans have been there before.

Worrisome, because the Great Depression was just getting started.

Worrisome, because does this mean that we have 12 years at most, and 8 years at the earliest, before we face another another Dec. 7, 1941 … and this one coming two decades or less after the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001? Or is history working backwards, with our Pearl Harbor having already occured on 9/11 and before our Great Depression?

Do we not get a joyous celebration at the end of it all, Times Square in August 1945, a sailor dipping a nurse for a kiss, sometime between 2021 and 2025?

The times, they are a-changin’. And the more they stay the same.


Update March 12, 8:07 p.m.: I swear I did not read this article in Sunday’s Times (didn’t buy it last weekend, and I usually skip the Week in Review section, anyway), but this is exactly what I’m talking about:

Generation OMG (link added above, too)


2 Comments on “The times, they are a-stayin’ the same”

  1. Great post. The challenge is that we can’t possibly know anyone who was 37 in 1933, and even getting their story is so difficult. I wonder if there are books that address what life was like as a midlifer in the 30’s, written by someone who was there at the time…

  2. Wek says:

    A quick note on Dylan. Yeah, he’s a boomer icon, but what seems lost is he’s from the “Silent Generation”. Never knew why they were called that? After all they produced some LOUD members with Elvis, James Dean, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, ML King jr, Hunter S. Thompson, et cetera.

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