The year is 1964. I am a sophomore at Southeast Missouri State College. I live on the third floor of wing C in Dearmont Hall, one of the four women’s dorms on campus. Dearmont is a quadrangle, which means it has four three-story wings, or buildings that are connected to form a square with a courtyard in the center.
I laugh because it’s sorta like a prison. At night they lock the doors and there are alarms. No one can go in or out. Except sometimes on Sunday nights one of the men’s fraternities will come and serenade us in the courtyard but we can only see and hear them by looking out our windows and they have to leave as soon as they stop singing, because boys are never allowed anywhere in the dorm except on Visitor Days which only happen a few times a year.
My scholarship for academic achievement covers my tuition and part of my dorm fees, which includes meals in the dorm cafeteria. Except on Sunday evenings. Sometimes my roommate and I make do by heating up canned soup in our electric popcorn popper. Sometimes we just have popcorn. But my roommate has gone home for the weekend and I think maybe I can afford to eat at Wimpy’s. I have almost six dollars in my piggy bank!
I have a chem test tomorrow morning on the periodic table, whatever that is, but I can cram for that after hours and I’m starving! I’m also in the mood for a little adventure.
Wimpy’s is a burger joint on the main street near the campus. I think the name of the street is Broadway but there are so many other things to remember as a student and I can walk from Dearmont to Wimpy’s without having to remember the street name. I mean, who really cares what the name of the street is? Cape Girardeau is a pretty small town and I can walk just about anywhere in a half hour or less.
Wimpy’s is a student favorite and it’s crowded tonight, because none of the dorms serve food on Sunday evenings. I find a stool at the counter by the window. All the seats at tables are filled with students – some reading or studying while they eat, others enjoying the casual friendly atmosphere – girls giggling and watching cute guys and guys strutting around trying to look cool, cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouth, looking to see if the girls are watching them.
After I finish my burger and fries and skip the coke because water is free, I walk out the front door and notice that there is a faint sound of music coming from the basement. The stairs are just to the right of the exit and I usually pay no attention, but the music is strange and I am curious. I walk slowly down the stairs and the music is clearer and even stranger. The door at the bottom of the stairs is painted black and the words on the door in white block letters say “NO NAME.” That makes me smile. Isn’t “No Name” a name? The door is open, just a crack and I peek in cautiously. What if this is a private party and I’m just walking in like I was invited? But no one stops me and I’m looking around to see if there’s anyone here that I know. Nope. I don’t recognize anyone.
All the walls inside the room are also painted black and a single bare light bulb hangs from the ceiling over the black painted wooden platform stage near the wall to my left. On the other side of the room are half a dozen small simple tables with chairs, also painted black, where students sit listening and watching intently. There is no chatter or flirting or socializing in this room. It’s quite a contrast to the scene upstairs.
The young man on the stage sits on a stool playing a guitar. The light bulb casts an eerie glow on the musician’s face. A device on his neck supports a harmonica, which he plays when he finishes a verse to the unfamiliar song he is singing.
Who is this guy? Maybe he announced his name before I came in? Everything seems very strange and mysterious. I’m used to love songs. Love me Tender. I can’t stop loving you. Only Love can break a heart, only Love can mend it again. But then Chubby Checker came along and suddenly us girls were allowed to get up and dance without sitting there waiting for some guy to ask us. So many times I sat on the sidelines waiting while the music poured through me, making my muscles itch and twitch and wanting to just move to the music. Still, some people look at you weird like there’s something wrong with you if you dance without a partner. Us girls who weren’t popular, who sat there waiting, we were called “Wallflowers.” Not out loud, of course, but we knew what the popular kids were thinking.
But this music isn’t a slow dance or a love song of a fast dance, twisting, jitterbugging song. It’s different.
I sink slowly into a chair at the table nearest me. If I take my eyes off him I might miss some of the words . . .
“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’ “
“The times they are a changin'”
What does that mean?
I don’t know anything about politics. I mean, yes. I memorized the qualifications for being a president, or senator or congressman. In fifth grade I memorized all the presidents, in order of the years they served. I was tested on all the “great” wars, where they were fought and who the important people were who commanded them. I memorized a lot of other stuff too, but once the test was over I forgot it.
There’s a “Young Democrats” and a “Young Republicans” club on campus. I don’t see much difference in them. For all I know they might be another fraternity or sorority only these clubs are made up of both girls and boys and some of them seem to get pretty worked up about whichever side they’re on. But mostly, as far as I can see, it’s just another reason for friends to hang out together.
A couple of days ago I heard some kids talking about stuff going on in California. It seems there’s a war in a place called Viet Nam and there are some people in California called “Hippies” who don’t like the idea of us getting involved. It has something to do with fighting the communists to protect our country. It’s just too complicated for me to understand. I think war is an awful thing because I don’t understand why people have to fight anyway. Why do we have to kill people to keep people from killing people?
I don’t recognize any of the people here. I sneak looks at them to see if I can figure out what they think of all this. Their faces reveal nothing. They just watch and listen. Have they heard this style of music before? His voice is not very beautiful and his face bears no emotional expression. This is nothing like the music on American Bandstand. Not even anything like the Beatles.
I like Peter, Paul and Mary, but they have very pleasant voices. Some of my friends play guitar and we go out by Cape Rock sometimes and build a bonfire and sing folk songs. I haven’t learned to play a guitar yet but I learned to sing harmony when I was in high school choir and I love it when all our voices blend in the night air and the fire lights up all those beautiful faces, singing our hearts out.
“The times they are a changin’ ” What does this mean?
The dorm doors lock at 9:00 tonight. And I have a chemistry test at 8:00 tomorrow morning. I hate chemistry! I hate memorizing all those chemical elements and I don’t even know what they’re for! And I hate going to an 8 o’clock class! It’s so hard to stay awake! But they told me I had to take chemistry in order to get a minor in home economics which they thought I would need in case I decided to be a fashion designer. I just want to be an artist, whatever that is. I’ve yet to meet one. I’ve never even seen a painting by any of my art teachers. I had a class in art history last semester, but all those artists are dead. I don’t remember hearing about any of them that got a major in art at state college before they could be an artist. Some of them learned to be an artist by being an apprentice to another artist who knew more than they did. I don’t think they do that any more. I wonder how I could find an artist who I could apprentice to?
I finally walk to the black door, taking one last look behind me to memorize all the details of this haunting scene.
During the 10 minute walk back to the dorm I keep hearing those words –
“The times they are a changin’ ”
Maybe if I watched the news, I’d know what he was singing about.
Back at the dorm I sign in and walk through the lobby where couples are exchanging long passionate good night kisses. The lights flash. Only five minutes before the guys have to leave and the doors are locked and alarmed until tomorrow morning at 7:00.
I walk by the TV in the lobby and wonder if the News will be on soon. But no one really ever watches it even though it stays on most of the time. Sometimes the guys wait in the chairs by the TV for their dates to come down from their rooms, and some people study in the chairs by the TV.
At home my Dad watches the news every night when he gets home from work so he knows what’s going on in the world. But I never liked that. He wanted everyone to be really quiet when the news was on. And everyone had to be in bed by 9:00 so he could go to sleep and be ready to get up at 4:30 to make the hour and a half drive to McDonnell-Douglas where he inspected airplanes that they made there.
No one on my floor has a radio, that I’m aware of, but everyone has at least one record player in their room. I’ve made up my mind that I will go to the record store tomorrow when my classes are over and see if I can find that music I heard at No Name.
I grab a towel and washcloth, my shampoo and soap and make my way to the shower room at the end of the hall. Back in my room I put my hair in brush rollers and cover them with a curler bonnet and sit in my bed for a while cramming for the chem test.
I finished my chemistry test in a hurry this morning. I’m pretty sure I aced it. Now I can forget all those stupid abbreviations for names of things that do something important but I don’t know what. And I’m pretty sure they don’t have anything to do with me being an artist. I have an hour before lunch and I’m on my way back down to Broadway where there’s a great record store with bins of records to sort through.
There are so many bins to sort through. All I have to go on is that one line that constantly keeps playing in my mind – “The times they are a changin'” And this is it! But the guy on the cover? That’s not the one I saw at No Name last night. But I’m buying this record! It’s expensive. But I’m buying it. Two dollars and sixty-nine cents! Exactly how much I have left after eating at Wimpy’s last night!
This whole thing is a miracle! Everything from my roommate going home, to going to Wimpy’s to eat, to hearing the music downstairs – even the name of the place where the guy was singing! No Name! It’s all a miracle and I’m going back to the dorm now to find out what this is all about and where it will lead me next.
I will listen to this record until I understand every word of every song on this album.