Times are a-changin’ for No­bel

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

The No­bel judges de­clared Thurs­day that Bob Dy­lan is not just a rock star but a poet of the high­est or­der.

At age 75, the former Wood­stock res­i­dent has be­come the first mu­si­cian in the 115-year his­tory of the No­bel hon­ors to win the prize in lit­er­a­ture. He was cho­sen for “hav­ing cre­ated new po­etic ex­pres­sions within the great Amer­i­can song tra­di­tion.”

It is the ul­ti­mate as­cen­sion for the man who set off a last­ing de­bate over whether lyrics, espe-

cially rock lyrics, can be re­garded as art. Dy­lan, who gave the world “Like a Rolling Stone,” ‘’Blowin’ in the Wind” and dozens of other stan­dards, now finds him­self on a list that in­cludes Sa­muel Beck­ett, Toni Mor­ri­son and T.S. Eliot, whom Dy­lan re­ferred to in his epic song “Deso­la­tion Row.”

“Con­grat­u­la­tions to one of my fa­vorite po­ets, Bob Dy­lan, on a well-de­served No­bel,” tweeted Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who in 2012 pre­sented the singer-song­writer with a Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom.

Dy­lan rarely gives in­ter­views, and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive said the star had no im­me­di­ate com­ment. He is on tour and was sched­uled to play in Las Ve­gas on Thurs­day night.

The an­nounce­ment out of Stock­holm was met with both eu­pho­ria and dis­may.

Many fans al­ready quote Dy­lan as if he were Shake­speare, there are en­tire col­lege cour­ses and schol­arly vol­umes de­voted to his songs, and judges work Dy­lan quo­ta­tions into their le­gal opin­ions all the time, such as “The times they are a-changin’” and “You don’t need a weath­er­man to know which way the wind blows.”

With this year’s No­bel an­nounce­ment, many peo­ple, es­pe­cially Amer­i­cans, weren’t scratch­ing their heads and asking “Who?!” the way they did af­ter hear­ing the names of such win­ners as Pa­trick Mo­di­ano and J.M.G. Le Clézio.

Oth­ers, though, lamented a lost mo­ment for books.

“An ill-con­ceived nos­tal­gia award wrenched from the ran­cid prostates of se­nile, gib­ber­ing hip­pies,” wrote “Trainspot­ting” nov­el­ist Irvine Welsh.

“I to­tally get the No­bel com­mit­tee,” tweeted author Gary Shteyn­gart. “Read­ing books is hard.”

The Vat­i­can news­pa­per L’Osser­va­tore Ro­mano said some “real writ­ers” prob­a­bly aren’t pleased.

But sev­eral lead­ing authors praised the news.

No­bel lau­re­ate Toni Mor­ri­son, the last Amer­i­can to win the lit­er­a­ture prize, in 1993, said in a state­ment that she was pleased and that Dy­lan was “an im­pres­sive choice.”

Salman Rushdie, who has writ­ten songs with U2’s Bono, tweeted that Dy­lan is “the bril­liant in­her­i­tor of the bardic tra­di­tion. Great choice.”

Peren­nial No­bel can­di­date Joyce Carol Oates tweeted that “his haunt­ing mu­sic & lyrics have al­ways seemed, in the deep­est sense, lit­er­ary.”

Dy­lan’s award also was wel­comed by a ven­er­a­ble lit­er­ary or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Academy of Amer­i­can Po­ets.

“Bob Dy­lan re­ceiv­ing the No­bel Prize in lit­er­a­ture ac­knowl­edges the im­por­tance of lit­er­a­ture’s oral tra­di­tion, and the fact that lit­er­a­ture and po­etry ex­ists in cul­ture in mul­ti­ple modes,” Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Jen­nifer Benka said in a state­ment.

Crit­ics can ar­gue whether “Vi­sions of Jo­hanna” is as lit­er­ary as “Wait­ing for Godot,” but Dy­lan’s stature among mu­si­cians is un­chal­lenged. He is the most in­flu­en­tial song­writer of his time, who brought a new depth, range and com­plex­ity to rock lyrics and freed Bruce Spring­steen, Joni Mitchell and count­less other artists to break out from the on­ce­nar­row bound­aries of love and dance songs.

Dy­lan al­ready was the only rock star to re­ceive a Pulitzer Prize (an hon­orary one), and is, in fact, an author, too: He was nom­i­nated for a Na­tional Book Crit­ics Cir­cle prize for his mem­oir, “Chron­i­cles: Vol­ume One,” pub­lished in 2004.

Dy­lan’s life has been a hy­brid of pop­u­lar and lit­er­ary in­flu­ences. A na­tive of Du­luth, Minn., he wor­shipped Elvis Pres­ley and James Dean as a boy but also read vo­ra­ciously and seemed to ab­sorb vir­tu­ally ev­ery style of Amer­i­can mu­sic.

Dy­lan took up res­i­dence in Wood­stock in the early 1960s as a mod­estly suc­cess­ful folk mu­si­cian, writ­ing songs in a room above a Tin­ker Street café and left a decade later as a bona fide leg­end in a town whose name was syn­ony­mous with the coun­ter­cul­ture of the time.

“Early on, Wood­stock was hos­pitable to us,” Dy­lan wrote in his “Chron­i­cles.” But un­for­tu­nately, he wrote, the houses at Byrd­cliffe and later on Ohayo Moun­tain Road, where Dy­lan lived with his wife and chil­dren, soon be­came a mecca for “dropouts and drug­gies,” “moochers” and “goons.”

In 1967 and 1968, Dy­lan and The Band — Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hud­son, Rob­bie Robert­son and Richard Manuel — recorded in the West Sauger­ties house known as “Big Pink,” re­sult­ing in the 1975 al­bum “The Base­ment Tapes.”

Dy­lan’s lyrics have re­ferred to (and some­times lifted from) the Bible, Civil War po­etry and Her­man Melville. He has con­tended that his clas­sic “Blood on the Tracks” al­bum was in­spired by the sto­ries of An­ton Chekhov.

His songs can be snarling and ac­cusatory (“Idiot Wind,” ‘’Pos­i­tively 4th Street”); apoc­a­lyp­tic (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”); dense and hal­lu­ci­na­tory (“Deso­la­tion Row”); ten­der and wist­ful (“Vi­sions of Jo­hanna”); brac­ingly top­i­cal (“Hur­ri­cane” and “Only a Pawn in Their Game”); and enig­matic and ab­sur­dist (“Stuck In­side of Mo­bile With the Mem­phis Blues Again”).

“Blowin’ in the Wind” was an in­stant protest an­them for the 1960s, yet sounded as if it had been handed down through the oral tra­di­tion from another cen­tury, with such lines as “How many times must the can­non balls fly be­fore they’re for­ever banned?”

“Like a Rolling Stone,” his take­down of a rich and pam­pered young woman forced to fend for her­self, was pro­nounced the great­est song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. The six-minute record­ing from 1965 is re­garded as a land­mark that shat­tered the no­tion a hit song had to be three min­utes.

At a 1965 press con­fer­ence, he was asked whether he con­sid­ered him­self pri­mar­ily a singer or a poet. Dy­lan wise­cracked: “I think of my­self more as a song-and-dance man.”

His ca­reer has been such a com­pli­cated pas­tiche of elu­sive, ever-chang­ing styles that it took six ac­tors — in­clud­ing Cate Blanchett — to por­tray him in the 2007 movie based on his life, “I’m Not There.” He won an Os­car in 2001 for the song “Things Have Changed” and re­ceived a life­time achieve­ment award from the Academy of Record­ing Arts and Sciences in 1991.

Dy­lan is the most un­ortho­dox No­bel lit­er­a­ture prize win­ner since 1997, when the award went to Ital­ian play­wright Dario Fo, whose works some say also need to be per­formed to be fully ap­pre­ci­ated. By a sad co­in­ci­dence, Fo died Thurs­day at 90.

The lit­er­a­ture award was the last of this year’s No­bel Prizes to be an­nounced. The six awards will be handed out on Dec. 10, the an­niver­sary of prize founder Al­fred No­bel’s death in 1896.

Dy­lan (1965)


Above: Bob Dy­lan per­forms in Los An­ge­les in Jan­uary 2012. Right top: Bob Dy­lan per­forms in Carhaix, France, in July 2012. Right bot­tom: Pres­i­dent Barack Obama presents Bob Dy­lan with a Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom dur­ing a May 2012 cer­e­mony at the White House.

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