Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

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Stephen Whiteside
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Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Sat Jan 14, 2017 9:47 am

I'd be curious to hear what forum members feel about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

My own feeling is that it is a brilliant decision, though I suspect the Nobel Prize will benefit from it more than Dylan himself. Who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year? Have you ever heard anybody talk about it?

I'm not going to defend everything Dylan has ever written. There is no doubt that some of his work is a bit half-baked and trite. At his best, though, - and he is at or close to his best a great deal of the time - he is utterly brilliant.

People not very familiar with his work generally refer to his early period - the folk/protest songs of the 60s. While these are, of course, fantastic, what I really admire about Dylan is the way he has continued to evolve and re-invent himself over decades and decades of work. His courage is incredible, too. He never stays with the tried and true, but keeps taking risks. He is quite prepared to alienate his fans and has done so over and over - while they squeal a bit at the beginning, he generally wins them over - with interest - in the long run.

Certainly in the world of popular song, I can't think of another artist who comes close to him in terms of creative lyrical output.

No doubt there will be quite a few on the forum who will say they are too old to have ever caught the Dylan Train, and that is fair enough. Then again, it's never too late to discover something new...

Lastly, can song lyrics be considered literature? My own feeling is that they definitely can, but I know there will be many who disagree.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
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Shelley
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Re: Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

Post by Shelley » Sat Jan 14, 2017 10:43 am

Hi Stephen

This is indeed an interesting topic. Firstly, I couldn't remember who won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, so I asked "Mr Google" and found it was Svetlana Alexievich, who I'm sorry to say, I've never heard of. In fact, I looked back at the list to 1990 and there were only about 4 names that rang a bell with me over that 26 year period. So historically the prize appears to have been awarded to authors whose names are lesser known in the wider community. Therefore your comment that Bob Dylan's award is likely to elevate the profile of the prize is a very valid one.

Did he deserve it? Did Svetlana Alexievich deserve it? I discovered she is a Belarusian investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who was awarded the prize ""for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time". No doubt her work was deserving, but I've never read it. Have you?

On the other hand, Bob Dylan's work is extremely well-known. Does that make him less deserving? In my opinion - no. Yet some people seem to think so - that "popular" somehow equates with "less auspicious". It's the same in every field - take opera for example. When Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras confined themselves to singing the great tenor roles in opera houses, the critics applauded. When they staged their groundbreaking "Three Tenors" concert in Rome in 1990, the public loved it - but the critics scoffed. Never mind that it introduced opera to a whole new audience - these three fabulous singers were (and still are) castigated by the purists for supposedly cheapening the art form. I think it is quite ridiculous.

For more than 5 decades, Bob Dylan has been influential in popular music and culture. Whether we personally relate to all of his songs or not, no one can deny the strength of that contribution.

Will the critics and observers ever agree on the subject of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature? I suspect, my friend, that the answer is "blowin' in the wind"!!

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
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"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Sat Jan 14, 2017 4:59 pm

You make a number of interesting points, Shelley. No, I have never heard of her (last year's winner). Dylan rattled off some very famous names in his acceptance speech - previous winners - but I bet if you had a look at the whole list you'd find the unknown outnumbered the famous 3 or 4 to one. I'm sure you could easily find some household names who've never won it, too, but probably should have. Like a lot of these things - all pretty hit and miss.

At one level, you could argue that the Nobel Prize for Literature has not done an especially good job of consistently nailing the world's greatest writers. On the other hand, if you or somebody you knew closely did win it, you would be pretty chuffed. We tend to operate a double standard in that regard, don't we - the public vs. the private.

Couldn't agree with you more about the snobbery of high art and the critics…and the irrational perils of popularity.

Mind you, I am probably as guilty of it as anybody. If I find a musician or writer I really like but is not very well known, I'm pretty happy. If that artist becomes a lot more popular though, I am likely to begin to lose interest in them. How perverse is that?
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
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Maureen K Clifford
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Re: Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

Post by Maureen K Clifford » Sat Jan 14, 2017 5:15 pm

I googled and knew none of them - so nothing to spark my interest at all. I did however own a canary called Big Yellow :lol: and he spent a lot of time blowin' in the wind and he really did build a ladder to the stars and climbed on every rung - more than that I cannot tell - Alas his song is sung.
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