Bob Dylan Wins 2016 Nobel Prize in Lit
With Desert Trip aka Oldchella happening last weekend and this, no surprise that the esteemed artists performing there are on my mind–and on my favorite radio station, KCRW.
Living just north of Los Angeles, we would have definitely attended if we could have gotten tickets; we’ve attended Coachella twice (2002 and 2003) and we have tickets for 2017. Even with 70,000 other fans, it would have been worth it to experience these bands, some of them for the first time for me.
At the last minute, last Thursday, we were able to score tickets to see The Who at the 4500 seat Santa Barbara Bowl, my first time seeing The Who. I never thought I’d see them and then in such an intimate beautiful venue as the Bowl, just a quick 30 minute drive up the coast. I could have gotten a Who Desert Trip t-shirt but in the end went for one that listed the show in Santa Barbara and that celebrates their 51 years.
Today I had two more Desert Trip aka Oldchella surprises: first the announcement that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Peace Prize, and then I learned that Sir Paul McCartney was playing the 300 seat venue Pappy and Harriet’s just outside Joshua Tree with tickets going on sale in four hours for a show that started in nine.
Very tempting to jump in the car to be one of the fortunate three hundred to see the legendary Sir Paul. But we didn’t.
In the big picture, the more important news is Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” according to this Press Release dated 13 October 2016 from The Permanent Secretary of the Nobel Prize. The video above is from last weekend at Oldchella; he sounds about gravelly but not as bad as the Klingon he was singing last time I heard him at the Santa Barbara Bowl a couple of years ago. The video below of “Tangled Up in Blue” is from 1975, 40 years ago:
My friend Ron Wells writes, “Finally, the greatest songwriter in the history of this country gets the award he has long deserved: the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Bruce Springsteen said it best: “Bob Dylan is the Father of my country.”
“The songs emanate from another dimension. The words tumble and flow like ice, like fire. The images thrust themselves into your consciousness forcing you to confront a reality you never envisioned, from a sphere you never knew existed.
“Bob Dylan is Einstein with lyrics, discovering the theory of relativity and channeling it back for mere mortals to try and make sense of.
“He is never easy to understand, because gods seldom are.
“His soul is, was, and forever will be glorious and infinite.
“Bob Dylan is the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and all is right with the universe once more…”
Ron has seen Dylan a number of times, and I’ve published his reviews and thoughts here on Art Predator: here’s a review of a 2011 show and here’s a general post about Dylan that for Ron Wells wrote for Dylan’s birthday.
In the video below, Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, explains why Bob Dylan won in an interview today by freelance journalist Sven Hugo Persson.
There’s quite a controversy flaring about whether or not he deserves it– that he’s not important enough as a literary artist, or that he hasn’t published enough books.
But he has published a number of books–poetry, collections of his song lyrics, and more. Several of his songs have been illustrated, including my favorite, The Super Human Crew: which “brings together two visionary works of art—James Ensor’s masterpiece painting Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889 and Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” The result is a riveting visual and verbal experience. Ensor’s huge, vibrant, and startling canvas presents a scene filled with clowns, masked figures, and—barely visible amid the swirling crowds—the tiny figure of Christ on a donkey entering the city of Brussels. “Desolation Row,” from Dylan’s classic 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited, presents its own surreal portrait of modern life in strangely similar terms. These two vast works share a vision of the contemporary world as anarchic, grotesque, and absurd, and The Superhuman Crew combines them in a surprising, thought-provoking format. This book includes a complete reproduction and numerous details of Ensor’s painting, the full text of Dylan’s lyrics to Desolation Row, and a compact disc with his recording of the song.” Produced by the Getty Museum in LA in 1999, it’s on sale for $10 (from $25).
This clearly is a book/song combo that should have a video! Preview it here. And since I couldn’t find one, I may have to make one… but listen to Dylan singing the song.
Pay attention to the lyrics because the Nobel Prize committee tends to choose writers who engage social issues, and make a social point in their work which is certainly true. The song starts with a haunting social commentary that references Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”
They’re selling postcards of the hanging
and continues from there. Toward the end we hear and understand the title of the book when Dylan says:
At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row
The final stanza is:
Yes, I received your letter yesterday, about the time the doorknob broke
When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke
All these people that you mention, yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name
Right now, I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row
People have pointed out for years the literary merit of his work. And Dylan has been a mainstay of college literary anthologies for many years, so he’s definitely been accepted into the approved literary canon.
What do you think about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel? What are some of your favorite lines from his work? Please comment below!
and if you’re wondering,
What exactly is the Nobel Prize in Literature?
According to Wikipedia, the award “is awarded annually by the Swedish Academy to authors for outstanding contributions in the field of literature. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the 1895 will of Alfred Nobel, which are awarded for outstanding contributions in chemistry, physics, literature, peace, and physiology or medicine… The country with the most recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature is France, with 16, followed by the United States with 11 and the United Kingdom with 10.”
Who else has won it and why?
A few of the more recent, notable and possibly familiar writers on this list include:
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2015: Svetlana Alexievich (Ukraine) “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2014: Patrick Modiano (France) “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2013: Alice Munro (Canada) “master of the contemporary short story”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2012: Mo Yan (China) “who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2011: Tomas Tranströmer (Sweden) “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2010: Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru) “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2009: Herta Müller (Germany) “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2008: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (France) “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2007: Doris Lessing (UK) “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2006: Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) “who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2005: Harold Pinter (UK) “who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2004: Elfriede Jelinek “for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society’s clichés and their subjugating power”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2003: John M. Coetzee “who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2002: Imre Kertész “for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2001: Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2000: Gao Xingjian “for an æuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1999: Günter Grass “whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1998: José Saramago “who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1997: Dario Fo “who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1996: Wislawa Szymborska “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1995: Seamus Heaney “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1994: Kenzaburo Oe “who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1993: Toni Morrison “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1992: Derek Walcott “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1991: Nadine Gordimer “who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1990: Octavio Paz “for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1982: Gabriel García Márquez “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1978: Isaac Bashevis Singer “for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1976: Saul Bellow “for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1971: Pablo Neruda “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1970: Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1969: Samuel Beckett “for his writing, which – in new forms for the novel and drama – in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1964: Jean-Paul Sartre “for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1962: John Steinbeck “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1957: Albert Camus “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1954: Ernest Miller Hemingway “for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1953: Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1950: Earl (Bertrand Arthur William) Russell “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1949: William Faulkner “for his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1948: Thomas Sterns Eliot “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1946: Hermann Hesse “for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1938: Pearl Buck “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1936: Eugene Gladstone O’Neill “for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1932: John Galsworthy “for his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form in The Forsyte Saga”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1930: Sinclair Lewis “for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1929: Thomas Mann “principally for his great novel, Buddenbrooks, which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1925: George Bernard Shaw “for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1923: William Butler Yeats “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1920: Knut Pedersen Hamsun “for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil”
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1907: Rudyard Kipling “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author”