Something is happening: Bob Dylan wins Nobel in literature
Bob Dylan, Nobel laureate. In the book world’s equivalent of a Supreme Court ruling, the Nobel judges declared Thursday that Dylan is not just a rock star but a poet of the very highest order.
Dylan, 75, becomes the first musician in the 115year history of the Nobel to win the prize in literature. He was honored 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, especially 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 startling 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-changing” 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 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 once-narrow boundaries of love and dance songs.
In this file photo, Bob Dylan performs in Los Angeles. Dylan was named the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday in a stunning announcement that for the first time bestowed the prestigious award to someone primarily seen as a musician.