I Was So Much Younger Then…

I’ve had a song stuck in my head, on endless loop, since it popped up on my playlist during my afternoon walk yesterday. That song is “My Back Pages,” written by Bob Dylan, sang by The Byrds. Dylan recorded it first in 1964 on his album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, but it’s The Byrds’ rendition released in 1967 that I’m most familiar with. And like the best. Dylan was a hell of a poet-songwriter, a master wordsmith, but his singing left something to be desired—in my opinion.

The reoccurring line “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” in “My Back Pages” brings to mind something my daddy told me long ago, something to the effect that the older he gets, the less he knows. When I was a young adult, I didn’t get the meaning of his words, even though at the time, I thought I knew everything. As I grew older, though, I understood that as one matures, one becomes aware there’s so much they don’t know, and what one thought they knew, was often wrong, assumptions based on missing or faulty information. And along with the understanding, realized that in our youth, most of us believe “…lies that life is black and white…” (another line from the song). That’s when I began to think for myself.

The song also got me thinking about the current state of pop music—and I include country because it has devolved into pop. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there’s still good singers and songs out there, they’re just few and far between. Think Maggie Rose and Ryan Bingham, two artists who I think are highly underrated unless you like your music to all sound the same.

60s and 70s music has soul. And to a lesser extent, so do the offerings from the 80s and 90s. But somewhere around the turn of the century, music lost its way, began to sound canned, so to speak, as if it all came out of the same place. Nowhere is the difference more apparent than songs with a message; here, the disparity is quite clear. Let’s compare the lyrics of “My Back Pages” with Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down”—

"My Back Pages"

Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I
Proud ‘neath heated brow
Ah,but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
Rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

Girls’ faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke their word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

"You Need To Calm Down"

You are somebody that I don’t know
But you’re taking shots at me like it’s Patrón
And I’m just like, “Damn!

It’s 7 AM”
Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out
But you say it in a tweet, that’s a cop-out
And I’m just like, “Hey!

Are you OK?”

And I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression
But I’ve learned the lesson that stressing and obsessing
‘Bout somebody else is no fun
And snakes and stones never broke my bones

So, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to calm down
You’re being too loud
And I’m just like

“Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to just stop
Like, can you just not step on my gown?
You need to calm down”

You are somebody that we don’t know
But you’re coming at my friends like a missile
Why are you mad
When you could be GLAAD?

(You could be GLAAD)

Sunshine on the street at the parade
But you would rather be in the dark ages
Just making that sign
Must’ve taken all night

You just need to take several seats
And then try to restore the peace
And control your urges to scream
About all the people you hate
‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay

So, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to calm down
You’re being too loud
And I’m just like

“Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to just stop
Like, can you just not step on his gown
You need to calm down”

And we see you over there on the Internet
Comparing all the girls who are killing it
But we figured you out
We all know now
We all got crowns
You need to calm down

Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to calm down

(You need to calm down)
You’re being too loud

(You’re being too loud)
And I’m just like

“Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to just stop

(Can you stop?)
Like can you just not step on our gowns
You need to calm down

“My Back Pages” reads like poetry written by a thinking adult while “You Need to Calm Down” sounds like a child’s scribbles. I’m not running down Taylor Swift, she’s preaching to the choir; she’s a savvy businesswoman, knows what her fans want to hear. But tell me this—which song will pass the test of time? (Hint, one already has.)
What has happened to originality? What has happened to heart and soul? Where the hell has it gone? And what has happened to our youth that they accept this pablum? Why don’t they demand more from their songwriters/storytellers/singers?

Or is it just that, like the generations before me, I think everything was better in The Good Old Days of my youth? Hmmm…

Naw, the music sucks.

©️2020 KT Workman

This version contains the two verses not included in the Byrds’ cover: