In 1963 Robert Allen Zimmerman, Hebrew name Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham, put out an amazing album on vinyl called The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. It changed my life.
At the time I was working for one Rupert Murdoch (pause to spit) training to be a proof reader. I was working in a strong union environment in the printing industry. In the printing trade, the Chapel is the traditional name given to a meeting of those in the union. The name originates in the early history of printing in Great Britain, when printing was controlled by the churches. The head of our group was called the Father of the Chapel and we always addressed each other as brother or sister at the meetings. The union movement was very much alive back then, but it wasn’t all about wages and conditions, it was about looking after our fellows, wherever they lived or worked.
I was trying to explain to my daughter Carly this week that if someone was working excessive overtime it would be patiently explained to the person that this was not good for either them or their family, but more importantly, not good for the person who should have been employed to do that work. Compare that to attitudes today, everyone working long hours, in fear of their job if they refuse, with many others unable to get work at all. How socially divisive is that?
So in 1963, when Bob first came to us, I was fertile ground to his message. America was beginning its deadly assault on the Vietnamese people, racial inequality was rife in America, apartheid raging in South Africa. Then this breath of fresh air came drifting across, telling us that yes, we could change the world.
I can remember reading my parents the lyric:
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
They were appalled and told me it doesn’t apply here! But the seed was sown. Though I never achieved getting beyond my parents’ command, for complex reasons, I did realise then that obedience to the state was optional, if only you were prepared to accept the punishments that would be meted out as a result.
Masters of War came at a time when it was forbidden for Australians to travel to Vietnam, unless of course you were travelling there to kill the local population.
Some memorable times of my life were spent sitting around discussing the meaning of Mr Tambourine Man, talking at Chapel about how we would all fill in our time once national working hours were reduced to 30 per week,
discussing the new world to come which had no racial bigotry and no war.
I constantly meet people who say that their political views were formed by Vietnam, but I think they need to say it was Vietnam and Bob Dylan.
Thank you Bob.