First things first, Bob Dylan, for the most part, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about any Swedish literary prize. He’s Bob Dylan. It’s what he does—shuns the usual, rejects the norm, breaks barriers, dismisses convention.
On the other hand, Dylan loves it. He’s giving the finger to the status quo while reveling, albeit internally, that his life’s work, his body of songs is as important and relevant, compelling and significant as any writer’s writer.
Dylan loves writers—Kerouac, Ginsberg in the early going. There are rumors Dylan visits Kerouac’s grave in Lowell, Massachusetts every year. He loves words, Dylan does. That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?
One of the arguments against Dylan and the Nobel Prize—song lyrics are not literature. Silly. Yes, some are and some certainly aren’t. But in a world where media entities blur the edges of disciplines, that argument doesn’t hold up anymore. Smart for the Nobel Committee to recognize this without specifically saying it.
And for all those who question the selection of Dylan because they can’t get past the man’s voice, his chameleon-like career, or are dismissing the lesser-songs in his canon, well, you just don’t get it and probably never will. That’s okay. It doesn’t matter. Bob Dylan doesn’t care. And I don’t either.
Dylan has been my personal Nobel Laureate for decades. Even when he put out music with lyrics that were, I believed, below him—even when he started doing the Tex-Mex thing, even when he got preachy about God, even when his voice got so gravelly that I could hardly make out his words, even with that shaky performance at the Grammy’s, even when he started singing Sinatra. Doesn’t matter. The lyrics, the literature he’s given us in hundreds of songs is worth these small, insignificant hurdles.
When I was a teenager, I remember hearing the song “Masters of War” played from a vinyl album in a friend’s basement family room. Dylan was pissed. He didn’t yell, he didn’t growl, he didn’t beat his chest. But he was pissed and every word in that song screamed disgust with those “masters.” I remember thinking: Who has the guts to do that? To get that pissed off in a song? To sing those words, those glorious words. Then I heard “Girl from the North Country” and I cried. I still cry when I hear that song. Again, it’s the words, those wonderful words.
Last spring I had the opportunity to sing a couple of Dylan songs with my guitar at a Dylan birthday party celebration at the Filament Theatre in Chicago. One of the songs was “Boots of Spanish Leather.” Words. Such words.
Words. These are what Dylan has given us. It’s what the Nobel Committee heard, read. It’s what moved them. It’s what moved me, moved America, moved the world. Just like all the Nobel Laureates of Literature. Dylan joins a mighty list. Just consider the American writers:
I do truly believe, as I first wrote, Dylan doesn’t give a damn about a Nobel Prize. But he does give a damn about words.
Thank God he did and still does.