Nobels & Dylan

In the mid-sixties, Bob Dylan’s music was the soundtrack to our lives. Now, in 2016, he’ll receive a Nobel. In that half century he’s become central to later generations and in other ways. But between the years when “everyone” quoted Childs numbers and when the Beatles took America by storm, Dylan’s voice was important. The folk singer who lived upstairs in ’65 patterned his style – music, clothes, harmonicas – after Dylan, placing roses on the stage at Pershing when Dylan played Lincoln; another friend wrote poems filled with Dylan allusions, murmuring Mr. Tambourine Man. Dylan did Nashville Skyline; in Chicago, watching him on Johnny Cash, I began to love country: a less surreal, more seductive Dylan singing Lay Lady Lay. In 1975 Austin, newly married, we bought Blood on the Tracks, with “Shelter from the Storm”

And in 2016, he will stand another stage. His website is workmanlike; in his mid seventies, his tours continue. The “News” section doesn’t (tonight) have the Nobel listed. It’s hard to put my memories of a man who seemed to speak for and to lost boys in the context of his (and our) maturity, of all those years and all his work between then and now. For me, he remains fixed in the past, mine is ambivalence and nostalgia, but that larger, longer public context: Washington Post; Wall Street Journal; New York Times.

If Dylan didn’t touch your life, Sohrab Ahmari’s take on one who did might be worth comment. Seven years has produced a world a less smug and ahistorical vision would have foreseen.


12 thoughts on “Nobels & Dylan”

  1. On the other hand “Blowin’ in the Wind” was execrable: pop music for people who couldn’t clap in time.

  2. I always thought ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ from Blood on the Tracks would have made a great Western movie. Maybe this prize will inspire someone to adapt it for the big screen.

  3. Mike K
    Don’t like his music.I would take Cole Porter any day.

    Cole Porter was a vastly superior musician- no argument there. Dylan’s music is rather pedestrian, though a step up from his voice. When Cole Porter sings his own songs, we find out that neither Dylan nor Cole Porter have good voices. Nonetheless, Dylan won his Nobel Prize for neither his voice nor his music, but for his lyrics.

    I very much liked Dylan’s absurdist lyrics when I was in high school, though I didn’t listen to much Dylan after Blonde on Blonde. My musical interests went in another direction. I listened to Bringing It All Back Home last month. His lyrics stand up after 50 years, at least in my opinion. By contrast, Crosby Stills etc. wrote politically-oriented lyrics which today make me cringe for their self-righteous smugness. A Nobel Prize for Dylan? I don’t know. Certainly more people have listened to Dylan’s lyrics than have read books authored by other Nobel Prize winners. A perusal of the Nobel Prize in Literature shows that there are plenty of deserving authors who never won, and some undeserving authors who did win, the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    That reminds me of the discussion of John Kerry’s combat medals from the Vietnam War. Some blog commenters who were veterans pointed out that not all medals are deserved, and not all deserving acts win medals. Not just for John Kerry, and not just for Dylan.

    As others have pointed out, Dylan winning a Nobel Prize for Literature is less absurd than Obama’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Jay Nordlinger’s book on the Nobel Peace Prize is worth perusing: Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World. The book points out that there have been plenty of undeserving Nobel Peace Prize winners, not just Obama. The current Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Santos, doesn’t appear to be entirely deserving of the prize, as Colombian citizens rejected the “peace” agreement with the FARC as ceding too much ground to the terrorist, drug-dealing FARC.

    Did Dylan deserve the Nobel Prize? I don’t know. All I know is that he got it. At least he is more deserving of the Literature prize than he would be for Chemistry or Medicine.

    If Dylan had been the lyricist for a musician with the songwriting talent of Jerome Kern or George Gershwin- such a combination would have been immortal.

  4. I enjoy listening to Cole Porter songs too, but I’ve always been a Dylan fan for my entire life. I’m sure my parents were probably watching Bob on the Johnny Cash Show when I was in the womb. I get the same feeling listening to Mozart or Beethoven or maybe some Beatles songs. That feeling, even when you hear the song for the first time, that you’ve heard it before. Long before. Like he was tapping into a collective well of musical water, and he drew out the same water that those other great composers drank from. It’s not the same music, but it is the same – if you know what I mean (and maybe you don’t, I acknowledge that).

    Back in the days before social media and before the world wide web and before the internet, we used to trade tapes of concerts and unreleased outakes. Nowadays everything is available at your fingertips. Everything has a tendancy to blur and blend into the next thing, but back then when you got your hands on one of those rare tapes it felt a lot different. You had a piece of raw history and heretofore hidden knowledge like a saintly relic or something.

    I remember one such bootleg tape I ended up with after a certain amount of horsetrading that had this hidden gem of a song on it that made quite an impression:

    This was always my favorite from his folk period. Invocation and surrender to a higher power.

  5. Bob Dylan has written 522 songs. He has sold maybe 44 million albums. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a prodigious body of work.

    The Bible is the most quoted work of all time. Shakespeare is the most quoted author. I would venture that Dylan’s lyrics are the most quoted.

  6. “Dylan winning a Nobel Prize for Literature is less absurd than Obama’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize”

    Nothing is more absurd than the Obama Peace Prize which was a thumb in the eye of Bush By those Norwegian idiots.

    Arafat’s is right there, though. Rigoberto Menchu is the beneficiary of a hagiography by Wikipedia. Hers is also highly questionable but, with a Marxist Pope, what do we expect ?

    As a kid in the 40s and 50s, I never liked Rock and Roll. I was a fan of Tony Bennet when I was in 8th grade and saw him in concert in Vegas about six years ago. There is an amazing guy.

    I was introduced to classical music in college and still like Opera very much. I have gotten to like country music the last 20 years.

    Never got to like Dylan.

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