‘When I write my masterpiece…’ Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize


American musician and song-writer Bob Dylan is now a favourite to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his contribution to writing and poetry. Dylan is the author of Tarantula (1966), a collection of the musician’s prose and poetry, an array of Dylan’s disjointed, halting though nevertheless intriguing lyrics. Dylan also wrote the memoir Chronicles (2004).

These are some of the excerpts taken from Tarantula:

“…look down oh great romantic, you who can predict from every position, you who know that everybody’s not a job or a nero or a j.c. penny…look down and seize your gambler’s passion, make high wire experts into heroes, presidents into con men.”

“…this land is your land & this land is my land -sure- but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway -’enthusiasm is music which needs a flashlight to be heard’ so says the Plague

As soon as I get outta here I’m going to my blood bank & make a withdrawal & go to Greece- Greece is beautiful & nobody understands you there

At university a few years ago, one of my older brothers was asked to write an essay on a poet of his choice, why he liked the poet, and what effect the poet had had on him. When he submitted his ode to Dylan, his tutor initially wanted to fail him on the grounds that ‘Bob Dylan is not a poet.’ However, when another tutor and Dylan devotee saw the work, the decision was overruled and the essay was passed.

Other critics are sceptical of Dylan’s chances to be awarded the Nobel Prize, despite the various bets which have placed Dylan high on the list alongside Tom Stoppard and Philip Roth. MA Orthofer who founded the site Complete Review, stated in an oddly lyrical statement: “oh, get serious people: he is not in the running, never has been, never will be.”

Yet Dylan’s literary prowess isn’t evidently confined to his actual literature. His lyrical prose more so than any attempt at writing amelodically has mastered the difficult transition from simple song-writing to art. With a discography as diverse and changing as Dylan’s, especially with his new album The Tempest being released, it is hard to isolate one favourite song or poem from the rest. With One More Cup of Coffee, Changing of the Guards, or Santa Fe (one of my favourite from the Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 albums, despite being originally recorded for the Basement Tapes), Dylan’s lyrics resonate on an entirely unique level through his transition from protestor blues to going electric and then his conversion. One of the best Dylan openings is in his 1971 song When I Paint my Masterpiece:

“Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble

Ancient footprints are everywhere

You can almost think that you’re seein’ double

On a cold, dark night on the Spanish stairs”

Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks and Highway 61 Revisited are my favourites of his albums and often expressed as the best of his work- great masterpieces, particularly Tracks, about which Dylan’s son Jakob described it as ‘my parents talking.’

Like Kafka and other ‘pioneers of style’ before him, Dylan’s notable and characteristic lyrics coined the term Dylanesque to denote the folkish, blues and pseudo country style Dylan is known for. The term was used in the film Reservoir Dogs when Stealer’s Wheel played on the radio before Michael Madsen did a Van Gogh to his victim: “Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty were a duo known as Stealer’s Wheel when they recorded this Dylanesque, pop, bubble-gum favourite from April of 1974. That reached up to number five, as K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies continues…”

While some have argued that Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize would somehow lower the standards of the award, perhaps it would broaden the artistic horizons of what constitutes poetry and a substantial contribution to the arts. In any case Dylan has had a greater impact on culture than Tom Stoppard.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “‘When I write my masterpiece…’ Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

  1. One of my absolute favorite musicians.

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