American Culture

Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize: a personal view (S&R Honors)

Bob Dylan’s award feels like a sop to a generation many of whose finest artistic talents took a popular art form (the rock song) and raised it to unheard of heights of artistry in both musical expression and lyrical content.

Part 2 of a series.

“Life is more or less a lie, but then again, that’s exactly the way we want it to be.” – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan by Martin Sharp (image courtesy Dangerous Minds)

Bob Dylan by Martin Sharp (image courtesy Dangerous Minds)

Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and I have been struggling with how I feel about that. Like many, my first response on being told the news was astonishment. It felt to me momentarily as if it were 1967 again when The Times of London gave a full page, serious, and respectful review to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and in an editorial in that same newspaper William Rees-Mogg, less than a month later, excoriated the British criminal justice system for its heavy handed treatment of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to maximum sentences for a minor drug bust in a now classic editorial titled “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?

It felt, then, like the counter culture was winning, that finally, to use a truly quaint term, “the establishment” was seeing the world as my g-g-generation saw it. Mick and Keith should be set free by “The Man” to make more music and Sgt. Pepper was great art.

As another of my heroes of those days said famously a couple of years later, all their received wisdom, their rules, their culture, didn’t “…mean shit to a tree.”

Zeitgeist is a helluva drug, isn’t it?

Now Dylan – Bob freakin’ Dylan – has the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here, there, and everywhere (get The Beatles reference?) writers, musicians, and other people who claim to know something have been oohing and aahing about the selection. Others, like this friend of mine, have been less sanguine about Dylan receiving the literature award, which might sound to some elitist; however, the argument that the Nobel committee should give some serious consideration to new categories for awards has considerable merit and there is precedent for such action. Then there’s this from Slate magazine in which the writer assesses Phillip Roth’s acceptance of Dylan as a choice thus, using Dylan’s award as yet one more chance to snark a generation:

…Dylan, by all appearances, rates high in the same circles that view Roth as the obvious choice for the honor: baby boomer men.

That’s the gist of the matter, perhaps. Bob Dylan’s award feels like a sop to a generation many of whose finest artistic talents took a popular art form (the rock song) and raised it to unheard of heights of artistry in both musical expression and lyrical content. As Dylan observed in one of his finest songs, a song from that annus mirabilis year mentioned above, “All Along the Watchtower“:

There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late

As the new Nobelist once asked in another of his masterpieces, “How does it feel?”

_____

Related: Nobel Committee gives Bob Dylan the wrong prize

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