Watch out kid, it’s something you did.
Perhaps this: “created new poetic sayings within the American song tradition” That is how Stockholm’s Nobel Academy sums up the achievement of Bob Dylan, who was granted the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.
It’s a stunning announcement. Not because of Dylan’s worldwide popularity, but in a time when the best poets are famous to readers of journals that are obscure, but also because it sets a precedent.
Dylan is the first musician.
Though proposed previously, he was generally considered out of the running, since his poetry happens to be sung. Academy secretary Sara Danius begged to disagree. “Bob Dylan writes poetry for the ear,” she said. “But it’s perfectly fine to see his works.”
“It makes perfect sense, it’s late if anything,” says David Wills of Woodcliff Lake, who like “Ghosty” hosts the Vintage Rock & Pop ShopÂ Â series at 11 a.m. Sundays, and Retro Radio atÂ 6 a.m. Tuesdays on WFDU 89.1-FM. “If you were to look at his lyrics, as if they were the sonnets of Byron, that are thought about literature, or anyone who has written poetry, then do the lyrics as divorced from the songs rack up? They obviously do. In fact, the music often takes a back seat”
There is another way that Dylan is an candidate for this specific prize.
Alfred Nobel and his awards’ history is well known. In a nutshell — or maybe bombshell — Alfred Bernhard Nobel was the 19th century chemist who eventually became one of the world arms manufacturers, and invented dynamite.
Back in 1888, a French newspaper printed his obituary by error (it was actually his brother who died). The lead of the story read: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by discovering ways to kill more people faster than previously, died yesterday.” His ways, by this glance of he would be viewed by posterity, such as Ebenezer Scrooge , he changed.
He didn’t give up dynamite. But he did establish the Nobel Peace Prize, that gave a number of his arms-gotten gains to folks who’ve “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies…” As Gore Vidal remarked years later, “one must never underestimate the Swedish sense of humor.”
Nobel established four other prizes: in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. These things must do with world peace might be vague. But of course, Nobel had noble things in mind: that the literary award, established in 1901, was to be given to the author who made “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an perfect direction.” Whether “perfect” — “idealisk” in Swedish — supposed “idealistic” in the sense of dedicated to a worthy goal, or “ideal” as in ideal, has been a topic of debate ever since. Suffice it to say, over the years such worthy authors as Chekhov, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Henry James and James Joyce were denied the prize for being insufficiently “idealistic.”
That brings us back.
Here is a writer who’s artistically ideal. He changed the direction of pop music by bringing poetry. Without him, The Beatles would have spent their career singing “yeah yeah yeah.” Jimi Hendrix would have been a better-than-average blues guitarist. Without him, there might have been no Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Velvet Underground, Donovan, Counting Crows, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, P.J. Harvey, Leonard Cohen, hip-hop artists such as Common or Talib Kweli or just about anybody who made audio after 1965.
In relation to “idealism” — in the sense which Nobel might have supposed it — Dylan’s effect is equally devastating.
What artist said more, and said it bitingly, on the field of peace and war? What artist had more of an effect — in terms of his music changing the direction of public sentiment national coverage?
1960s peace rallies mobilized to the strains of Blowin’ in the Wind? How many idealistic children played with The Times They Are A-Changin’ to parents that couldn’t know what of this counterculture stuff was about? How many Vietnam vets felt that they heard their story told for the very first time at a tough Rain’s Gont Fall?
“Dylan painted with words and music, I’d almost say, beyond almost anyone else from the age, an idealistic picture of what the world may be,” said musician and NJPAC executive producer David Rodriguez of Englewood,N.J.
How many poets could claim to have called a radical underground protest group (The Weathermen was inspired by a line in Subterranean Homesick Blues: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”) ? How many could claim to have changed pubic sentiment to a important legal situation: that of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer accused of murder (although a few folks, especially in the crime scene of Paterson, N.J., could take issue with Dylan’s Hurricane)?
What artist stuck it to the Alfred Nobels of the planet like Dylan?