Like it has been doing every year since 1901, the Swedish Academy elected a winner for the Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday. Bob Dylan is the latest laureate and his announcement as winner was met with as much shock as delight and quite a bit of rage. This is the first time the accolade has been given to a singer-songwriter and in justifying its choice, the Stockholm institution said Dylan deserved it “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
Not everyone is satisfied with the explanation. A well-versed music journalist, Everett True said, “Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize for Literature says everything about the establishment’s understanding of the appeal of popular music- i.e. it has none.” That’s not the worst of it: “Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize for Literature is like your third-rate English teacher at school, trying to look ‘cool’”. He wonders why the Academy settled on Dylan and not Nina Simone or Beyoncé. Well, you could argue that none of these great musicians wrote a book of prose poetry or published an art book like Bob did. But to be fair the Nobel Prize was for his songwriting, not his other works of literature.
There are many, though, who think Bob’s latest award was well deserved, even if it’s just for the controversy it has stirred. “The Nobel committee got this right – Dylan’s ongoing achievement in American song is a literary feat to celebrate in this gaudiest of ways. The fact that he’s won this award – yet another scandalous international incident to add to his resume – is something to celebrate as well,” writes Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield. Bill Wyman, writer for Vulture, thinks “Dylan got it because he was one of the signal poets of the 20th century. He was a folk singer, a rock star, a provocateur, and, now and then, a crank. But more than anything else, before he even sang his words, he put them to paper, crafted them with an unappreciated care, and intended them to mean something.”
Whether you agree with the Swedish Academy or not, they won’t take back their award. And I think it’s a win for music, earned by a diligent servant of the art form, regardless of whether he figures in your playlist or not. That’s this writer’s two cents, but he has been wrong. What do you think? In case you missed it, here’s the moment the historic announcement was made.
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 13, 2016
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