Bob Dylan: Nobel laureate or rockstar?

By Maddy Rutowski

Opinion Contributor

If you claim never to have heard any of Bob Dylan’s music, you are probably mistaken. His songs have made their way into countless films such as Forrest Gump and High Fidelity, and they play incessantly on classic radio stations, so odds are you’ve heard at least one. Perhaps you are familiar with a few of his songs but you never realized that it was Dylan who wrote them. This often happens with Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower;” people with little knowledge of classic rock never discern that it was Dylan’s acoustics and meticulous lyricism that caused Hendrix to create one of the most famous rock renditions in history.

Dylan is a child of protest. He honed his talents in songwriting from his mentor, Woody Guthrie, a prolific every-man whose music resonated strongly with the working class of the 1930s. Armed with this potent background, Dylan made his way onto the music scene with his premier album in 1962 and his performance at the March on Washington, and grew to cause outrage with his use of an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Now, with an already impressive resume, Dylan has accomplished yet another feat: becoming the first musician to become a Nobel laureate.

The decision was made by the Nobel Committee for Literature and was announced to the public on Thursday, October 13 along with a statement explaining that Dylan won “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Normally, one would think of this as a seemingly uncharacteristic decision to be interesting and perhaps even revolutionary, but it has unfortunately created a great deal of controversy and outrage. Had Dylan been nominated along with other songwriters, or had the prize been for musical acts exclusively, there would have been no dissension. Because Dylan triumphed over prolific authors like Haruki Murakami of Japan, Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya, Joyce Carol Oates of the United States, and Adonis of Syria, people are arguing that his “music” can in no way hold its own against these authors’ mammoth works of literature. The people in disagreement with the decision are mostly writers themselves, and understandably so; writing is not a simple task in and of itself, and writing a novel that attracts attention of the legendary Nobel society must be otherworldly. However, while I understand where the complaints are coming from, I disagree.

Bob Dylan is not just a musician; he is a poet. If people, specifically those in the literary community, believe that setting this poetry to music degrades its quality, then the world of literature has transcended its usual amount of pretension, an undertaking that had before seemed insurmountable. At the end of the day, this amazing man has won an incredibly well-respected award that is of the highest literary honor achievable, and I feel that it is wrong to deprive him of this distinction.

Dylan’s music is not exclusive and that is why people are upset. His music is accessible, anyone has the ability to listen, and some do so without perceiving the meaning behind the words. Perhaps people are upset with this because they want to be able to say that they read an obscure author’s book who, by the way, is a Nobel laureate. Awarding one of the most renowned lyricists and musical poets takes away that “hipster” quality and leaves the literary elitists bereft of all their sanctimony. I think Huffington Post UK contributor, Dan Einav, put it best when he said that critics of Dylan “…would have preferred to see the award go to someone about whom they can feel superior for having read.”

If you break it down, Dylan is not an exquisite musician. He cannot play the guitar like George Harrison could and his harmonica skills are in no way superior. So what makes him so amazing? The answer is simply his ability to turn a phrase. When you hear Dylan’s music, it is so characteristically his. His vocals are hoarse and his musical accompaniment is rough around the edges, but it’s those lyrics that are so unique, so different from what other people are writing, so rich in meaning. His music sets him apart from the British bands of the mid-1960s solely for this reason, and he continues to stand out today. His lyrics are unparalleled; they make the situations he is writing about and the emotions he is feeling palpable to his audience. The only difference between him and a poet is his addition of a melodic soundtrack to support his diction. There should be no reason why he, or any other deserving musician for that matter, should not win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Who knows, maybe this will open the door to a new generation of Nobel laureate winners with skills other than the power of the pen. After all, “the times, they are a-changin’.”



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