Lisa Viggiano and “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

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Lisa Viggiano

The Times They Are A‑Changin’

By Annie Dinerman

Since October 2022, singer Lisa Viggiano has been performing her set of songs that were sung and recorded by noted singer Jane Olivor. The show, Lisa Viggiano Sings the Jane Olivor Songbook, has been praised as “superlative” (Broadway World) and “sublime” (Edge Media Network). Viggiano is a Bistro, MAC, and BroadwayWorld award winner. She brings a warm, grown-up voice of intelligence and experience to the songs she loves. She repeats the show on March 18, 2023 at NYC’s Don’t Tell Mama. Perhaps the most exciting moment in her show was her delivery of Bob Dylan’s classic “The Times They Are A‑Changin’.” I was so moved by it that I pelted Viggiano with questions about the lyrics and how it felt to sing them onstage.

Annie Dinerman “The Times They Are A‑Changin’” is the title song of Dylan’s 1964 album. I heard you sing it at Don’t Tell Mama on November 27, 2022. In your hands, his lyrics sounded like they had been written that week. I remember being totally shocked at the new meaning you’d found in such a familiar, old song. You made eye contact with me. I had to look away! I was afraid of distracting you while you were onstage.

Lisa Viggiano Ha! I tend to make a lot of eye contact. Thank you for “getting” it. “The Times They Are A‑Changin’” has been one of my favorite songs for decades and recently has become one of the “anthems” I love to sing.

AD The song has been covered by many different artists, including Nina Simone; Josephine Baker; The Byrds; Peter, Paul and Mary; Tracy Chapman; Simon & Garfunkel; The Beach Boys; Joan Baez; Phil Collins; Billy Joel; and Bruce Springsteen.

LV To be honest, I actually have never heard the Jane Olivor recording. I wish I had! While doing my research for the show, I came across some of JO’s set lists and “The Times They Are A‑Changin’” was on several of them. I had been performing the song in my 2019 show, Lady Day to The Boss and at various concerts and appearances since then.

Lisa Vigginao
Photo: Helane Blumfield

AD When did you first sing it?

LV On my way to the first Women’s March in 2017. I had never marched for a cause before, I guess the times were a‑changin’ for me, quite literally.

AD The song title hearkens back to very old Irish and Scottish folk ballads. Why do you think Dylan used antiquated grammar to talk about what was a new and different era?

LV I think Dylan may have been summoning the voices of old yearning for freedom and change. He also calls upon ancient sacred texts, again, reminding us that a desire for change is our birthright, our nature, the fruition of change, our entitlement. And…that change takes time.

AD Let’s look at the lyrics to the first verse:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For The Times They Are A‑Changin’

AD In 1964, this was a call to action.

LV Absolutely. And here we are in 2023 amidst the need for continued change.

AD What do you hear in the lyrics “admit that the waters around you have grown?” What do they mean to you today?

LV I hear that we need to act now to protect the environment for future generations. As you know, my life is incredibly active. I serve as an educator by day, am immersed with my family, and in between, I sing. Acting now to protect the environment for future generations feels like an impossible task. And yet, there are some simple, everyday things that we can do: recycle, repurpose items, use a refillable water bottle, just to name a few. My idealistic self believes that if we can all pitch in and do something each day that is environmentally conscious we can create change.

AD Why didn’t you sing the second verse?

LV I did not in this show because I was singing the song more as a prayer against Bach’s Prelude in C Major, which serves as the accompaniment to Gounod’s “Ave Maria.” We didn’t sing the Ave Maria lyrics that I have sung countless times as a music minister over the years. Jane Olivor did, in fact, record a version of the “Ave Maria.” This was another aspect of the choosing. We chose to pair “The Times They Are A‑Changin’” with the Bach Prelude in C Major, and then suddenly, I felt like I was praying.

Lisa on stage at NYC’s Don’t Tell Mama

AD Here it is the second verse, for those who are curious.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For The Times They Are A‑Changin’

LV When I perform the song in other settings, I do sing all of the verses.

AD So, let’s consider the third verse:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For The Times They Are A‑Changin’

LV He wrote it in 1963 during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests.

AD When you sang this verse, my jaw dropped! The lyrics could be describing in specific detail the January 6th insurrection of 2021! It reminds me of the footage we’ve all seen—the senators hurrying to a safer place, the threat made against the vice president, while a very real battle outside was raging.

LV I feel deeply passionate singing that verse.

AD It was exciting to hear! OK, so let’s look at the fourth verse.

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 rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For The Times They Are A‑Changin’

AD This verse was originally about the generation gap. It was a new concept in human history. In 2023, it could be about the parents of LGBTQ youth.

LV The line that jumps out at me in 2023 is “please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand,” as if it’s saying that the elders today must make way for the likes of young activists like Greta Thunberg (for environment), the Parkland students (for gun reform), etc. Let’s look at the final verse.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For The Times They Are A‑Changin’

AD Here, Dylan’s words are ominous. He’s saying that change is inevitable, that there’s a power behind it, like the power of a curse. He’s making biblical references and using the language of a prophet. You once told me that you think of Bob Dylan as a prophet.

LV: Ha! Did I say that? Well, I guess I do think of his words as prophetic based on how the lyrics to this song read in 2023.

AD Today, the power of prophecy in this song is stunning. As a songwriter, I suspect he’s tapped into a higher source of information. He released an album called Time Out of Mind, which to me suggests that playing music can be a spiritual experience for him; that when he’s caught up in it, he loses his daily sense of time and goes to another place, like a meditation.

Annie Dinerman
Photo: Anna Azarov Photography

LV Yes! Yes! I have been singing meditative/prayerful music since I was a child. Many of Dylan’s songs feel meditative and prayerful to me, including two of my favorites: the song we’re discussing, and “Forever Young.”

AD How do you feel when you’re singing the final verse?

LV Dare I say it? I feel…hopeful!

AD This song was released in 1964. That’s 59 years ago.

LV Written then, and so incredibly relevant today. If I overthink it, I can feel defeated that it’s still relevant. My optimistic side is dug into the belief that it’s still relevant because change takes time, and “The Times, They Are (still) A‑Changin’.”

AD Does it seem to you that your audience feels you’re addressing them directly? Or do you think they’re mostly just happy to hear a song from their youth?

LV I think it’s a combination. I have heard both responses from audience members.

AD: The song has no chorus. Do they sing along?

LV No one has ever sung along.

AD Really.

LV However, when I sing the song in its entirety, if I am feeling a “singing” vibe in the room, I will often gesture that the crowd join in for the last time we repeat “For the Times, They Are A-‘Changin’.” It feels good to sing this message of hope with other people.

AD In the last several years, we’ve seen a lot of upsetting news. How can we answer Bob Dylan’s call to action today?

LV I am optimistic that if we allow ourselves to truly and respectfully “see” each other and all living beings we can come together to create change.

AD How did you first think of putting together a cabaret act around songs sung by Jane Olivor?

LV In 2016, Mark Nadler [her director] and I got together to discuss a show that I wanted to do that would honor the loved ones and mentors that I lost during the AIDS crisis. Mark reminded me of the popularity of Jane Olivor’s music during the 1980s among gay men. We talked about how healing her music was during those difficult days. It was going to be a Jane Olivor tribute. It took six years and living through another global health crisis for me to finally turn my attention to putting the show together. We put it up on its feet in October of 2022 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. The intimacy of the Brick Room inspired me to book dates at Don’t Tell Mama, and we will be performing it once again there on March 18, 2023.

AD Thank you so much for the opportunity to hear your powerful rendition of this landmark popular song at this time in our lives.

LV Thank you, Annie, and Cabaret Scenes, for taking the time to explore this remarkable song with me.

Bob Dylan’s song catalog, including “The Times They Are A‑Changin’,” is published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

For more about Lisa, please visit

For more about Annie, please visit

Annie Dinerman

Annie Dinerman has written music reviews for CDs and DVDs, books, and live performances. On the New York theater scene, she’s handled reviews, interviews, and feature articles. Her entertainment writing style is informed by her award-winning songwriting talent for lingo, sound, and rhythm (MAC Award, Bistro Award, Abe Olman Award from Songwriters Hall of Fame). Her ear for production values has been sharpened by long hours of recording studio experience. Annie Dinerman is quoted in press kits and label websites for established artists like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tucker.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Pat Reeder

    I would love to hear Lisa perform this retrospective. The Times They are a Changing is part of my youth and I have to confess that it has been on repeat in my consciousness for the past several years. Such relevance to our times!

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