NYT: Bob Dylan Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

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Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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25 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    IMO, Dylan’s songwriting ability showed its peak in the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks, which also has the benefit of being a sample platter of America’s musical traditions including blues, jazz, and rockabilly.

    But YMMV and there is a massive corpus of his work to choose favorites from.Report

    • Dylan himself says “A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It’s hard for me to relate to that. I mean… people enjoying that type of pain, you know?” Though he denies that it’s about his breakup with his wife, well, he’s full of it.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I had the pleasure of briefly meeting B.B. King one time before he died. This is what he said to me: “The blues aren’t supposed to make you sad, son, they’re supposed to make you feel good!” This album is the same way (not in the least because there is some solid blues music in it).

        Truth is, I don’t actually enjoy “Idiot Wind” all that much — not so much because it’s an angry dirge with Dylan giving license to his voice reaching peak nose-whine, but rather because the contempt is indeed difficult to swallow. And “If You See Her, Say Hello” is obviously pretty painful too, but its narrator is starting to come to terms with the end of the relationship and chooses to remember the good things rather than the bad. “You’re Going To Make Me Lonesome What You Go” is the flip side of that: your new loving relationship is full of joy and happiness even if you’re wise enough to understand that it will end one day, and you dive into the relationship anyway. “Meet Me In The Morning” is a superbly-structured twelve-bar blues, call-and-response, focused on the hopeful possibilities of rekindling a stagnant love; “Shelter From The Storm” is wistful, to be sure, but deeply sweet and loving; “Tangled Up In Blue” is the anthem for appreciating the swirl of life’s complexity and ambiguity.

        Is there pain described in Blood On The Tracks? Hell, yes; nearly every song at least touches on the pain of heartbreak and lost love. But that doesn’t mean it’s sadistic to take pleasure in the stories Dylan tells on that album. There’s pleasure and happiness too. The album depicts many facets of love, many facets of life. That’s why it’s such a pleasure: it’s deeply honest and clear-eyed about its subjects.

        Lost love is also hardly a unique subject for all kinds of art from all sorts of eras.

        One more thing: “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” is such good storytelling! I defy anyone to listen to it without smiling when it becomes clear what Jack is actually up to.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Song lyrics might technically fall under literature as a form of poetry but giving the award to Dylan
    seems to be stretching it. When most people couldn’t read, literature was meant to be listened to regardless of whether it was recited from memory or read out loud from a book. If I’m remembering correctly, the ability to read silently didn’t even really exist before the Middle Ages in the West. When people read, the read out loud. Since most people can read now, literature is enjoyed mainly alone and by reading silently. Audio books are enjoyed alone through the most part to. People either listen through head phones or in a car and usually driving by themselves. The award should go to things that are read rather than listened to.Report

  3. Avatar notme says:

    Just more proof they will give a Nobel prize to almost anyone.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Good, it’s about time old white guys finally get their due.Report

  5. Avatar Aaron David says:

    Is it wrong to wish that 2016 is the swan song of the boomers?

    Is it wrong to see them as a warning for future generations?Report

  6. Avatar Damon says:

    Hey, if you can give a peace award to folks that actually didn’t do squat to increase peace, you can give a lit award to a dude that writes songs…..Report

  7. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I don’t know why some people regard this as a self-evidently ridiculous choice. It would be one thing if it had traditionally been awarded only for prose, but there’s a history of awarding it for poetry, and a song is poetry set to music. It’s not like they gave it to Bieber.Report

  8. I have no objection in principle to a singer/songwriter getting the Nobel prize for literature. But I have a few impressions about Dylan, and I’d like to see what others who know his work better than I* think of them.

    1. My (uninformed*) impression of Dylan is that he took others’ songs or just folk songs that had been sung for quite a while and simply covered them. While he may have written a bunch of his own stuff, the songs that actually were commercially successful were these covers.

    2. He strikes me as more of a representative of a trend in popularized folk music and not a particularly talented singer.

    No. 1 is either mostly right or mostly wrong. The answer to no. 2 is subjective, but something that I’d like to hear about from people who actually know his music and know music in general. I know what I like to listen to, but I know almost nothing about the technique of music. I’d also like to hear from someone who likes his stuff. I’m not a fan at all, at least from what I heard*, which may be unrepresentative of his work.

    *And I know it only in passing, just a few songs that have made it to my “classic rock” radio station: Maggie’s Farm, Like a Rolling Stone, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Lay Lady Lay, Blowing in the Wind, and some other song whose approximate title or catchy chorus escapes me.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Here’s a track listing of Dylan’s 1978 Masterpieces compilation. Of the 39 songs, five were co-written by Dylan, one was traditional, and the other 33 were written solely by Dylan. Maybe you have it backwards? Not having a particularly good voice, Dylan wrote a lot of songs which were more commercially successful when covered by other singers.

      This particular prize is for lyrics, not for singing, so it’s not particularly relevant that Dylan wasn’t all that talented as a singer.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Gab,
      Dylan, from what i remember (listening to a composer, mind), has an objectively bad voice. Gravelly, and what not.

      This is very different than someone who has a LIMITED voice… a short vocal range means you write to the range.Report

    • 1 was true for his first album. After that, he wrote almost all of his own material. And the songs you first think of when you hear his name (including the ones you name) are all his.Report

    • Thanks, all. I now know more than I did when the day started.Report