Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate: What’s the Big Fuss?

I never really was a big fan of Bob Dylan. I didn’t much like his voice, and that distracted me from his real talent; his songwriting.

Then, in 1992, PBS carried a 30th anniversary special, a concert featuring other famous artists performing Dylan’s songs. I have to say that hearing those songs delivered by people who could really sing, totally impressed me. It felt like I was hearing them for the first time.

I’ve seen him perform only once, back in the early 2000’s in Vancouver. Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell also performed that night, and it was an amazing evening. What struck me most about Dylan was that he was actually singing. It turns out he’d been taking some vocal training in the previous few months before the tour, and for the first time in awhile, his real voice was ringing through. He even bantered a little bit with the audience, and was quite animated as he performed, and his backing band was fabulous. You can’t beat all of that.

So was I surprised that he received the Nobel prize for Literature? Well, sure I was. I never imagined the Nobel Committee slipping outside the usual stuffy, leather bounds of the literary world, and considering a songwriter for a change. But of course, there are plenty of people out there who have their noses out of joint. Heaven forbid that a songwriter/poet be considered part of the literature scene! Poof! Poof! Pout! Pout!

I would challenge any of those literature snobs to try to write a lyric.

No, seriously.

I’m not talking about pop lyrics, they’re not meant to be deep or meaningful in anyway whatsoever. But have you ever read lyrics by Dylan, or Joni Mitchell or even Leonard Cohen for that matter? Many arguments abound as to whether lyrics are poetry. In my opinion, most lyrics don’t come anywhere near poetry. But the above three songwriters somehow managed to come very close. You can sit and read their lyrics and somehow become transported. That is true art.

A great lyricist has such a limited amount of space to say such profound things. Not only that, but they have to consider meter, rhyme, stressing syllables, stretching vowels, alliteration, all kinds of things that a plain old literary writer doesn’t really need to pay that much attention to.

And on top of all of that, you have to be awesome. And I tend to use that word sparingly, because it’s overused these days. But you truly have to be awesome. It is an art form that only a few are very, very good at.

One of the reasons the Nobel Committee chose Dylan was because of his “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” I’m happy to see the Nobel gates open to include songwriters in the literature category. Apparently, the Times They Are A-Changin’.

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’.

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’.

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’.

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’.

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’.

– Bob Dylan, 1964

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *