Bob Dylan, the poet laureate of the rock era, whose body of work has influenced generations of songwriters and been densely analyzed by fans, critics and academics, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.
It is the first time the honour has gone to a musician. In its citation, the Swedish Academy credited Dylan with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
CINEWS would like to mention that the awarding of the Nobel Prize to the American icon had been in the news in the previous years too though some questioned about presenting it to a musician. The award had been won mainly by novelists with a sprinkling of poets and playwrights. One of the two musicians worthy of this august honour was Dylan who is basically a singer with a penchant for great poetry. The other is Canadian-born Leonard Cohen who is a writer, poet and a world renown singer. We would like to mention the name of Indian bard Rabindranath Tagore who became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.
The choice of Dylan for the world’s top literary honour came as something of a surprise and was widely viewed as an expansion of the academy’s traditional notions of art. Dylan, 75, joins a pantheon that includes T. S. Eliot, Gabriel García Márquez, Samuel Beckett and Toni Morrison — the last American to claim the award, in 1993.
In choosing a popular musician for one of the most coveted prizes in the literary world, the Swedish Academy dramatically redefined the boundaries of literature, setting off a debate about whether song lyrics have the same artistic value as poetry or novels.
“Most song lyrics don’t really hold up without the music, and they aren’t supposed to,” the poet Billy Collins said. “Bob Dylan is in the 2 percent club of songwriters whose lyrics are interesting on the page, even without the harmonica and the guitar and his very distinctive voice. I think he does qualify as poetry.”
In previous years, writers and publishers have grumbled that the academy seems to favour obscure writers with clear political messages over more popular figures — last year’s prize went to the Belarussian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, whose deeply reported narratives draw on oral history. But in choosing someone so well known and commercially successful, and so far outside of established literary traditions, the academy seems to have swung far into the other direction.
In some ways, it was a typical response to Dylan’s work, who throughout his career has been hailed as a brilliant stylist and innovator and yet faced occasional bafflement from critics.
Dylan emerged on the New York music scene in 1961 as an artist in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, singing protest songs and strumming an acoustic guitar in clubs and cafes in Greenwich Village. But from the start, Dylan stood out for dazzling lyrics and an oblique songwriting style that made him a source of fascination for artists and critics. In 1963, the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart with a version of his song “Blowin’ in the Wind,” with ambiguous refrains that evoked Ecclesiastes.
Within a few years, Mr. Dylan was confounding the very notion of folk music, with ever more complex songs and moves toward a more rock ’n’ roll sound. In 1965, he played with an electric rock band at the Newport Folk Festival, provoking a backlash from folk purists who accused him of selling out.
Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) has been influential in popular music and culture for more than five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when his songs chronicled social unrest, although Dylan repudiated suggestions from journalists that he was a spokesman for his generation.
Nevertheless, early songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” became anthems for the American civil rights and anti-war movements. Leaving behind his initial base in the American folk music revival, his six-minute single “Like a Rolling Stone”, recorded in 1965, enlarged the range of popular music.
Dylan’s mid-1960s recordings, backed by rock musicians, reached the top end of the United States music charts while also attracting denunciation and criticism from others in the folk movement