By now, most people know that Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel prize for literature.The literary world was rocked – first time ever for an artist mainly known as a musician to win. One critic sarcastically offered that Keith Richards should get the Nobel prize for chemistry.
Explaining its rational for choosing Dylan for this honour, spokesperson Sara Danius stated it was, “… for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” She compared his accomplishments to that of Homer and Sappho, whose works were also delivered orally… “and certainly from Milton and Blake onward”, she said.
It makes sense. Wikipedia tells us Milton’s poetry and prose reflected his deep personal convictions, a passion for freedom and self-determination towards the urgent and political issues of his day… can easily be similarly regarded. Bob Dylan himself said, “It’s not easy to define poetry.” He’s also been influential to other poets like Leonard Cohn – to whom he said was the best, right after him. Cohn and Dylan both use music to more effectively communicate their works – not that it’s easy. As John Lennon explained, “It’s like sending a postcard; you’ve not much room to say a lot.” And, Cohn said, “If I knew where the hits came from, I’d go there more often.”
My first introduction to Dylan was in an English classroom. Up to that point, I’ve only ever listened to the music – with the lyrics a poor second choice. I didn’t understand how, but he opened a whole new perspective for me, so that as the Beatles evolved, I was ready for the possibilities.
“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” – Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan
Journalist, Bill Wyman, in support of Dylan, said, “His lyricism is exquisite; his concerns and subjects are demonstrably timeless; and few poets of any era have seen their work bear more influence.
Salman Rushdie tweeted “From Fran Orpheus to Faiz, songs and poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.”
Finally, I feel I can add my own two cents worth to the conversation.
My ‘Music in Me’ column, blog and book were created out of a need for self-expression. So, I’m lucky to be living at a time when there are so many ways to get your words out. Which is good, because, as Dylan has said, “I’d go crazy if I couldn’t write.”
When asked if the committee was broadening the definition of literature, Darious said, “Perhaps, the times they are a-changing.” But, as The New York Times succinctly put it, “He finally got the prize because he re-arranged the way we all think.”
One thing for certain… at 75, Dylan will acknowledge this latest award in the same skeptical way. As he’s said before: “Having these colossal accolades and titles, they get in the way.”