Billy Bragg blasts President Trump in his mournful new protest song, “The Times They Are A-Changing Back,” which transforms the optimism of Bob Dylan‘s 1964 anthem into a bleak survey of America’s social and political backslide. The British folk songwriter-activist recorded an intimate live version in a hotel room, singing over quiet acoustic guitar.
The track opens with a clever twist on Dylan’s opening water imagery: “Accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone/ For the climate is obviously changing,” Bragg sings. “But the man in the White House says no one’s to blame/ For the times, they are a-changing back.”
From there, the singer expresses fear of racial, religious and sexual intolerance in a Trump-ruled U.S.: “Come Mexicans, Muslims, LBGT and Jews/ Keep your eyes wide for what’s on the news/ For President Trump is expressing his views, and I fear that the mob he’s inciting/ Will some break your windows and burn down your schools/ For the times, they are a-changing back.”
He continues by uniting “mothers and daughters throughout the land,” subtly critiquing the Trump administration’s policies on women’s equality and reproductive rights. “A bunch of old men have come up with a plan,” he sings. “Never mind your ambitions, they’ve a better idea of how you should be behaving.”
After noting that “Mather Luther King is spinning in his grave/ To see a bigoted bully taking the stage,” Bragg ends with a note of resilience: “The line, it is drawn, and the curse it is cast,” he sings. “The slow one now will later be fast, as the present now will later be past/ Let’s hold onto that idea for a moment/ And the first one now will later be last/ For the times they need a-changin’.”
Bragg wrote the lyrics after hearing tourmate Joe Henry soundcheck a version of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” before a concert.
“At 5pm on Friday, at the moment Donald Trump became President of the United States, Joe Henry and I were beginning our sound check in Salisbury. Joe began mournfully strumming Dylan’s classic ‘The Times They Are A Changing’ and, listening to him from the wings, I ruefully thought that it seems more like the times are changing back to how they were in the 1950s,” Bragg wrote on Facebook.
“Checking into my hotel, I saw clips from Trump’s inaugural speech on the evening news and, 30 minutes later when I stepped out the shower, I had these lyrics in my head,” he continued. “I played the song that night in City Hall and it went down a storm. A night off in York has given me an opportunity to film a performance in my room.”