By now, most of you have heard the news that Bob Dylan, America's own troubadour, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Dylan, 75, is the first musician to ever receive the prestigious honor and, by all accounts, public opinion of the decision is generally favorable.
Born Robert Zimmerman to a middle-class Jewish family in Minnesota, Dylan plied his trade in the early days in the folk music clubs in and around New York City. What set him apart from so many singer songwriters of the early to mid '60s was the depth of his lyrics. They were complex enough, interesting enough, to stand alone as poetry. Whether the words were ever married to music wasn't nearly as relevant as you might think.
Read aloud the lyrics to, "Blowin' in the Wind," or "Shelter From The Storm," or "Mr. Tambourine Man," or "Girl From the North Country." Forget for a minute that any of those words have ever been sung. Now, compare them to the poetry of Walt Whitman or Henry Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson or the ancient Greek bard Homer.
When you do this, you'll understand why Dylan has won the world's most significant award for literature. His stuff is THAT good.
Dylan's words helped to usher in and shore up the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War protests, and many other challenges to the status quo of the 1960s and '70s. His song that tells the story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter helped win that middleweight boxer a new trial after a 19-year jail stint following his conviction for murder. Carter was subsequently released after a judge ruled he hadn't received a fair trial.
Dylan's contribution to the world of serious rock 'n roll came when Jimi Hendrix took "All Along The Watchtower" and, in the opinion of many listeners, did it better than Dylan himself. The wailing, moaning, sliding of Hendrix' electric guitar and his emphatic delivery of the lyrics created the penultimate cover of a song originally done with a laid-back, almost lazy-sounding solo voice, an acoustic guitar and a harmonica.
There was no subject Dylan avoided. He wrote and sang of war, death, religion, love, adultery, murder, loss, slavery, music, the Deep South, beautiful women, old men, hippies, the government, and more. Like the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso who eventually explored every medium in art -- painting, drawing, sculpture, origami, ceramics, and clay -- Dylan expanded his repertoire of folk to try his hand at country, blues, electric blues, gospel, and rock. He's left virtually no musical genre untouched.
Dylan's winning of the Nobel Prize is a nice sharp stick in the eye of The Establishment that has routinely dismissed the music, culture, and attitudes of one of America's most tumultuous, but artistically significant, periods.
Not bad for a guy from the Midwest who not only had the courage to speak out against what he saw as wrong but put his words to music and ended up as the spokesperson for an entire generation.