Bob Dylan awarded Noble Prize for Literature

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Rebecca Galib

Perhaps one of the greatest victories in the music world occurred on October 13. Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is the first musician in history to be awarded the Prize. This completely redefines the definition of literature and gives poetry a completely different connotation.
Literature is not limited to words written within the binding of a book. Music is simply poetry put to music, and if you’ve ever taken a listen to Bob Dylan’s music, you’ll find that it’s just that: poetry put to music.
His musical style isn’t particularly complex; often, he stays within a few select chords that he colors with short harmonica riffs to bridge verses to refrains. But the beauty is in the simplicity because it forces you to listen to the words. He often uses metaphors and vivid imagery to convey what he’s trying to say. Dylan’s lyrics are a lot to unpack, but his voice has a sort of mesmerizing tone to it that is only lifted by the chords following it.
Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman, grew up in Duluth, Minn. He adopted his stage name at the beginning of his music career playing at local cafés in college, where he first delved in the country and folk genres. In 1963, after dropping out of college and moving to New York, he became one of the most poetic musicians of the time period with the release of his album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which included one of the most recognizable songs of the period, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” His next album, The Times They Are a-Changin’” hammered home his influence and fame in the musical world as being possibly the most recognized folk singer of the twentieth century. In spite of two reinventions of himself—one after a devastating motorcycle crash and the other after a divorce with his wife Sara Lowndes—his music continued to shape a different sect of music altogether.
At Dylan’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Bruce Springsteen said, “[Dylan] invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording artist could achieve and changed the face of Rock & Roll forever.”
These contributions are the reason that Dylan is being recognized as a winner of the Nobel Prize. However, this decision by the Swedish Academy, who chooses the winner of the Prize, has split as to whether he deserves the award. While many are sending congratulations his way, such as author Stephen King and President Obama, others are not as ecstatic.
Novelist Irvine Welsh described the nomination as “an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”
Lately, the more pressing situation has been whether or not Dylan will accept the award. He clearly acknowledged that he was awarded the Prize. His website congratulated him on the award, but the statement was later taken off the site. However, Dylan has not made any public statement about the Prize, nor has he contacted the Swedish Academy in regards to it. Academy member Per Wastberg has even gone so far to call Dylan “impolite and arrogant” for not responding to their constant attempt at contact.
I am not to attempt to get inside the head of Dylan and explain why he isn’t speaking to the public. However, I can tell you that he is a very humble and shy man.
In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1969, Dylan was asked about his opinion of being a youth leader for Americans growing up in this country. He put his answer in true Bob Dylan fashion.
“I play music, man. I write songs,” he said. “I have a certain balance about things, and I believe there should be an order to everything. Underneath it all I believe, also, that there are people trained for this job that you're talking about—‘youth leader’ type of thing, you know? I mean, there must be people trained to do this type of work. And I'm just one person, doing what I do. Trying to get along… staying out of people's hair, that's all.”
This quote sums up everything Bob Dylan is about. He is simply a man that wants to keep making music. He had no intentions of changing the music world when he began playing his guitar and singing about answers blowin’ in the wind. People can call him “arrogant” all they want, but he is just being his shy, humble self. It doesn’t matter whether he accepts the prize or even responds to the Academy’s contact attempts. What matters is that his music is changing the boundaries of literature, just like how he has influenced the world of music today.

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