Last Thursday it was announced that Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature and while some might cry “JUDAS!” I can’t help but reply with “play it f**king loud!” While Leonard Cohen realises that we already know Dylan is great when he says this award is like ‘pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain’ (just as the man himself says, “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”), the acknowledgement of Dylan’s lyricism as poetry sets a precedent on how we look at music and lyrics from now on.
For six decades, Dylan has developed and changed his style from folk to rock, turning tragedy into beauty with three chords and his words as he sings “for the loser now will be later to win.” But while in one song he may be inspiring hope, in another he brings us back to reality: ‘But even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked’ (another reason to not want Trump to win, so we don’t have to picture that). As the secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius puts it, ‘He’s a great poet – a great poet in the English-speaking tradition. For 54 years he’s been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity.’
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His versatility and ability to make words his own is what has made him this mysterious voice of the world, one that has caused great division. The people that love him make him individually their own, which, former poet laureate Andrew Motion says means, ‘we can feel a curiously personal kind of pleasure in this tremendous honouring of him’. After growing up in a household where Dylan is referred to as ‘Uncle Bob’, Motion’s sentiment rang true. However, the sceptics have also had their say, questioning how much of a poet he really is. I mean, just take this section from Mr. Tambourine Man and decide:
Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
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But it’s so easy to just pick a song of Dylan’s and say it’s poetry. It’s the idea of pop music that makes people question Dylan’s win. But just like how he’s evolved over 50 odd years, so has poetry and literature. More and more people are finding poetry unapproachable without realising that because you might listen to music you’re also involving yourself in poetry and literature. Of course, what makes the lyric is also the music and the voice and it can be strange to read lyrics on a piece of paper. But all art forms intertwine that I won’t be surprised if soon the Nobel prize for literature will be won by another singer-songwriter – someone just had to go first.
While I, and so many others, have written and spoken about this controversial win, the winner has responded in perfect Dylan style: with silence. Obama put it perfectly when he congratulated him on the win saying that, “You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise.” It’s that mystery around him that keeps you intrigued. He’s created this character that ties in with his many personas in his song writing. Because you know the lyrics, you think you know the man. I like to picture him as part of the cynics, thinking to himself, “you just want to be on the side that’s winning.”