Thursday, December 15, 2016

BOB DYLAN AND THE NOBEL

Since 1901 the Nobel Organization has awarded 113 prizes for Literature.  When I stop to think about it, over the last 115 years only 113 authors have been selected to be the recipients of this prestigious award.  I looked over a complete list of these authors and discovered that I had actually only read 17 of these men and women who used literature as a means for promoting new ideas in philosophy, poetry and general humanitarianism.   I haven't even heard of well more than half of the names on the list.  Until this year the most recent Literature Nobel that I had read was awarded in 1983 to William Golding whose "Lord Of The Flies" I have read.  Most of the authors that have been read by myself were from the twenties to the fifties.  These are the seventeen Nobel Literature authors that I have read over my lifetime:

Bob Dylan 2016
William Golding 1983
Isaac Bashevis Singer 1978
Saul Bellow 1976
Jean-Paul Sartre 1964
John Steinbeck 1962
Albert Camus 1957
Ernest Hemingway 1954
Sir Winston Churchill 1953
William Faulkner 1949
Pearl Buck 1938
Eugene O'Neill 1936
Sinclair Lewis 1930
Thomas Mann 1929
George Bernard Shaw 1925
William Butler Yeats 1923
Rudyard Kipling 1907

The Nobel committee assesses who will win the prize for literature on the whole of a writers work.  It is not based on just one book or work as the Pulitzer Prize does.  The committee each year gives an explanation of why a certain writer is  awarded the prize.  I read all of the explanations of all the literature winners over the years and there seems to be one thing in common.  Their works promote a philosophy that addresses the state of mankind and to expose the failings and victories of mankind to help promote the betterment of the human race throughout the world.

There are novelists on that list as well as poets, historians and philosophers.   There is one that is different from all the others though.  This years recipient is Bob Dylan who is a singer/songwriter.

The literature world exploded when the Nobel announced Dylan's awarding of the prize.  A songwriter?  Sentiments ran deep and one writer suggested that if that is the case they might as well put Hemingway in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.  Songwriting is not literature and fears were expressed that there will now be a flood of songwriters being considered and receiving the Nobel for literature.

The explanation the Nobel gave for awarding the prize to Dylan was this:

"for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition"

They considered his lyrics as poetry, which they are.  His canon of work dates all the way back to the late fifties which means that for at least the last fifty five or so years, Bob Dylan has been writing and recording songs that speak of individual rights that all men should be made available to.  The vast majority of his songs, or poems, deal with human conditions that have changed over the years.  He has written about civil rights.  He has written about the equality of man.  He has written about injustices.  He has written about political wrongs.  He has written of religion and his quest to find it.  He has written about the search for meaning and the search for truth.

If you don't like Dylan because of his style of music or because of his voice, then look up his lyrics and just read them.  Search for what the message is in each one of them.  Many people see Bob Dylan as a rebel, an instigator, a protestor and to a point he is.  Those parts of his philosophy are key to his special outlook on the American experience over the last half century.  He writes of things that need fixing.

Probably one of his most famous songs was one of his earliest.  "Blowing In The Wind" is a beautiful wonderful song but the words go deep.  The song lists problems and questions that the American people were addressing in the early sixties.  He addressed these problems and came to the conclusion at the end of each verse that "The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind..."

So what is the answer that is blowing in the wind?  Well, I am not positive what Dylan was thinking but as I have listened to that song nearly my whole life, and have sung it just as long, I have my own idea of what Dylan was trying to say.  The answer blowing in the wind was the American flag and what it stood for.  You take that flag and look at it and think of what it represents, the country it represents and the hopes that it gives us as Americans and you will find the answers in that thinking.  It is the Declaration of Independence.  It is the United States Constitution.  It is the freedom of Americans, some who have had to fight hard and give the ultimate sacrifice to save or gain that freedom and the hope of some who are still fighting for the freedom that this country strives to obtain for all of its citizenry.  That is what is blowing in the wind.  The flag and all it stands for.  Read these words and see what the answer is in your mind in this message from Dylan:

"Blowin' In The Wind"
Bob Dylan

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take 'til he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.


I don't think the literature world needs to be worried about the Nobel being plowed through by a lot of songwriters.  The Nobel does not work that way.  You have to be a very special writer that really makes hard statements that promote your beliefs.  Think about it.  Out of all of the great authors over the last century or so and only 113 of them have gained this level of recognition.  There are not that many songwriters that even approach the bar that Dylan has set for them to win a Nobel.  I sat and thought about it a long time.  I thought of all the songwriters I know and if any of them approach what Dylan has accomplished over the last fifty years.   I came up with only four names.  Woody Guthrie, Paul Simon, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen.  Those four have written a lifetimes worth of song lyrics that addresses the social condition on a very steady basis.  But those three, as good as they are, do not come close to the quality and clarity that Dylan's songs do.  I don't think we will see another songwriter receive the Nobel for Literature anytime in the near or even the far future.

Dylan is special.  His music is special but most important, his message is special.

Bob Dylan more than deserves the Nobel for Literature 2016.

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