Dear fellow citizens of Dylan-dom,
First of all, congratulations to all of us. Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
As the news came in of Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize for redefining the boundaries of literature, the Dylan-dom rejoiced! In choosing him for the world’s highest honour, the Swedish Academy has exemplified a radical behaviour. Or have they?
Immediately, ‘The Argumentative Indian’ in all of us (a phrase that has become a part of our lexicon now, borrowed from Amartya Sen — another Nobel Laureate, who won it for economics) was up and about on social media and chat groups.
“Wow, that’s great no? Bob da… Ki Dileyn…” exclaimed the Bengalis. A play on his name, implying Mr. Bob, you did great! Arguably, most Bengalis are great fans of Bob Dylan’s lyrics and find no dissonance with the choice of the Swedish Academy.
“But Nobel Prize for Literature? How is he in the same league with that of T.S. Eliot? Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Or Samuel Beckett?” said a message in one of my chat groups.
“Why not? Is the question because he is a musician?” I said. Mr. Dylan, 75, is the first musician to win the award. And, in choosing him, a musician from the popular genre, the Academy has raised the debate: do song lyrics stand on the same pedestal as poetry? Or novels? Pitchfork and Vice have both run articles questioning the choice of Dylan for the Nobel.
My husband says, “I am a fan of Dylan, but the question did come to my mind… can a Nobel be awarded to a songwriter? We must figure out whether any other musician or songwriter have gotten a Nobel prize in the past. We must analyse it to justify it”. To that conjecture, my son, a data scientist who also sings Dylan, says “but this is essentially a qualitative decision based on the definition and criteria set by the Swedish Academy. It ought to be subjective and thus cannot be quantitatively analysed.” I wondered. And pondered further. And when I think, I seek more information on the matter, I continue to argue, and every so often, I write.
Here’s a paragraph from the official website of the Nobel Prize:
Nobel’s Guidelines and Their Interpretations:
As guidelines for the distribution of the Literature Prize the Swedish Academy had the general requirement for all the prizes – the candidate should have bestowed “the greatest benefit on mankind” – and the special condition for literature, “in an ideal direction”. Both prescriptions are vague and the second, in particular, was to cause much discussion. What did Nobel actually mean by ideal? In fact, the history of the Literature Prize appears as a series of attempts to interpret an imprecisely worded will. The consecutive phases in that history reflect the changing sensibility of an Academy continuously renewing itself.
Debate on if you wish, for it appears as though debate was hard coded in the definition itself.
While at it, perhaps for the next few days, how about we listen to some more of Dylan and perhaps follow him on social media if you like, as I do.
Congratulations to one of my favorite poets, Bob Dylan, on a well-deserved Nobel. https://t.co/c9cnANWPCS
— President Obama (@POTUS) October 13, 2016
I retweeted it… I agree with it in letter, spirit and tweet! In 2012, President Obama honored Dylan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dylan was awarded by the Pulitzer Prize jury a special citation in 2008 for “his profound impact on popular muic and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”
Born in Minnesota as Robert Allen Zimmerman, Bob Dylan’s grand parents emigrated from what is now Ukraine and his maternal grand parents came from northeastern Turkey. Growing up in Duluth and then Hibbing, he listened to the blues and country stations on radio. As a teenager, it was mostly rock and roll. As he moved to Minnesota druing his University years, he got into folk music. He changed his name to Bob Dylan in 1960s.
For 25 things that you should know about Bob Dylan to participate as an authentic argumentative Indian, go to: http://www.sfgate.com/music/article/Bob-Dylan-obliges-annoying-fan-in-Berkeley-by-8132776.php#photo-1343528
Also, go on spotify or apple music or gaana.com, enjoy Dylan as he explores the traditions in American song – folk, blues, country, gospel and ofcourse rock and roll. Sometimes jazz and even some Irish folk music. He has toured since the late 1980s and performed with guitar, keyboard and harmonica. Bob Dylan shocked the world of folk music almost 50 years ago, by plugging in his guitar. The puritans of folk music exclaimed. But his enigmatic song writing has continued to confound and engage us unfailingly.
In addressing a question on how he thinks up the lyrics:
“I’ll take a song I know and simply start playing it in my head. That’s the way I meditate. A lot of people will look at a crack on the wall and meditate, or count sheep or angels or money or something, and it’s a proven fact that it’ll help them relax. I don’t meditate on any of that stuff. I meditate on a song.” Said Bob Dylan in 2004.
An all time favourite and one of the first on recall is his “Blowing in the wind” song that was written and released in around 1962/63 as a single and In 1994, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, it was ranked number 14 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 greatest songs of all times.” The song is said to have been originally written in two verses. After its first public performance around 1962, he added the middle verse to the song. He is said to have been inspired from a passage from the autobiography of Woodie Gurthrie, who was his musical idol, in which he had compared his political sensibility to newspapers blowing in the winds of New York City streets and alleys. It is understood that his reading of it had been a major turning point in his intellectual and political development. He was in his 20s then. When asked later about it in one of his interviews, he said, “I wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in 10 minutes, just put words to an old spiritual, probably something I learned from Carter Family records. That’s the folk music tradition. You use what’s been handed down.
Here’s a curated list of Bob Dylan’s songs by Saeed Ahmed, CNN for you to enjoy.
and a top ten list from youtube:
And my personal favourite: Knockin’ on Heavens Door. A song that my son and my nieces sang when they were younger and also something that my son taught some of the primary school kids at my school a few years ago. Heylin, who wrote Dylan’s biography, described the song as “an exercise in splendid simplicity.” Many other artists have played the cover versions of it. One of which is Eric Clapton’s, to which I am quite partial.
Just last month, September 2016, a 36-CD set by Legacy Recordings was announced that covers the recordings starting with the concert in Sydney, Australia and ends with the one at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Then there’s this list of books that might interest you. Written in 1966, Tarantula is a collection of poems and prose that evokes the turbulence of the times in which it was written, and gives a unique insight into Dylan’s creative word & Dylan Goes Electric which talks about the insight of Woodstock festivals and the music movement of sixties. There’s The Lyrics: Since 1962 by him and the picture books, If Not For You and If Dogs Run Free.
Nobel prize or otherwise, we celebrate you. The “little red notebook,” supposedly stolen from you and circulated among collectors, now held at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York with severely restricted access, is hoped to be seen by us citizens from the Dylan-dom sometime. And amidst these treasures, even as Bob Dylan the man remains an enigma for us, here’s a peek into the secret archive:
Citizen fan from the Dylan-dom