Bob Dylan becomes first musician to win literature Nobel

Singer Bob Dylan was named the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday.

Singer Bob Dylan was named the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday.

By Carolyn Kellogg – Los Angeles Times (TNS) – 10-14-16


“Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley

“With his pointed shoes and his bells

“Speaking to some French girl

“Who says she knows me well”

Since 1901, the Nobel Prize in literature has served as the pinnacle of literary achievement. Awarded for a lifetime body of work, it has gone to novelists, poets and playwrights such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Saul Bellow, Samuel Beckett, William Faulkner and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The last American to receive the prize was Toni Morrison, in 1993.

And now Bob Dylan has entered that pantheon, the first musician to be awarded the prize.

Dylan, the brilliant, iconoclastic musician whose career surfed the cultural riptides of the 1960s, was awarded the prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

For fans, the announcement Thursday morning simply affirmed what they had been saying for years — Bob Dylan has long been considered by many to be a, if not the, pre-eminent modern American poet. His songs are taught as poetry on college campuses around the country.

Still, it was a bold, surprising, and for some questionable, choice; when his name was announced at the Swedish Academy, a murmur of surprise went around the room, loud enough to picked up by the cameras streaming the announcement on the web.

Dylan has been part of the Nobel conversation for years — in 2011 he first appeared on the betting site Landbrokes, and was, in fact, in eighth place on the site this year. (The Swedish Academy does not release any official lists of finalists.)

But literary watchers have never considered him a serious contender. In fact the first English-language question Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, was asked ended bluntly with: “Does he really deserve the prize?”

“Of course he does, he just got it. He is a great poet,” Danius replied. She linked Dylan’s work to the ancient oral tradition, citing Homer and Sappho, who “wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, meant to be performed, often together with instruments. It’s the same way with Bob Dylan.”

Still, it’s a shock that a musician cited for his both lyrics and music, has won the world’s most important literature prize. The Nobel has previously been confined to writers working in text alone — poetry, prose and plays.

But the prize also usually goes to writer well into a long career whose work often reflects a social conscience.

In that, Dylan fits.

“He made you think,” said Robert Hilburn by phone Thursday. Hilburn, who has attended many Dylan performances, also had multiple sit-down interviews with the musician during his career as a music critic at the Los Angeles Times. “He was talking about life, politics, civil rights — he made music the equivalent of books.

“Look at all the great writers,” Hilburn said. “When you talk about words having an effect on people around the world for generations — his words make us dream, they inspire us, they comfort us, they exhilarate us. … You could have given him this prize 20 years ago for the cultural revolution he created with just words.”

Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Minnesota in 1941. His story — by now well-known — includes traveling to New York, giving himself a new name, and embarking on a career in folk music.

Dylan steadfastly refused to be anointed “the voice of his generation” but his early songs, including “The Times They are A’Changing,” “Blowing in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone” became, and remain, anthems for the 1960s counterculture. But he changed, along with the times; though originally based in folk, he reshaped the perimeters of rock when he infamously went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Bolstered by a trio of era-defining albums — “Highway 61 Revisted,” “Blonde on Blonde” and “Bringing it on Home” — he gave rise the singer-songwriters movement that would also produce Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and James Taylor.



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