If you publicly express your lack of understanding as to why Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, you tell us more about yourself than you probably ever meant to — especially so, if you are a writer. Moreover, you confirm the committee’s decision to choose him instead of you.
It’s interesting — sometimes even hilarious — how people publicly reacted to the announcements of the latest Nobel Prize laureates in recent years. With the exception of prizes acknowledging scientific achievements, just about everyone today appears to think that they are more worthy of at least being considered to be awarded than the actual winners.
That Bob Dylan (eventually) made it into the exclusive circle of Nobel laureates did not astonish me in the least — what made me wonder was how long it took the committee to acknowledge him as the accomplished poet he is.
He influenced at least two generations of people with his lyrics over the decades. (Not to mention the five Swedish scientists’ contest to sneak the most references to Dylan’s works into their publications until retirement; yes, the defence is also able to add a bit of hilarity to the case.) How many contemporary writers and lyricists can rightfully say as much about their work?
Oops, now I spoiled it: Yes, “lyricist” describes both the writer of words to go with music and the writer of lyric poems (whether or not these are ever set to music).
How many of his critics’ words, phrases, sentences do we hear random people recite, quote, or at least mention every day, in a variety of places or situations — and how often do we recognise their origin? It’s safe to assume that even “best–selling authors” whose names appeared on the New York Times’ short list at some point during the past ten years have not even once experienced this situation yet.
The Answer Is Blowin’ in the Wind
Is there anyone (of a certain age) out there who has never ever said or thought — in jest or earnest — that the answer to any particular question was “blowin’ in the wind”?
Have you never thought “how long do we have to talk about this bloody issue until it will eventually be settled” (like, peace negotiations around the world that seem to never quite arrive at a solution)? Have you never confided in your best friend, asking, “how often do I have to prove myself until they eventually accept me for who and what I am”? Did you never yell at someone, “don’t you fucking see what’s going on around you”?
These and many other issues we constantly struggle with even today he discussed in three short verses, each closed by the famous refrain that gave this poem its title.
That his poems have come with music certainly helped spread his ideas, but it did little to nothing to improve their quality. Does anybody really doubt that the vast majority of his songs are poems set to music rather than fancy tunes set to meaningful words?
When the Dogs Say Good Night
It is of course possible that some of those injured souls have simply misunderstood some of his words and phrases for decades (such happens even to native speakers, now and then), and therefore lick their wounds in “the dark sacred night”. Well, the only advice one can offer to them is to “turn off the volume and just read the lyrics”. Then, with some luck — provided they manage to tame their egos for a while — they will understand.
I avoided to drop names, because I don’t want to humiliate the loudest critics any further (they themselves made a great job of it already), but the precious reader will recognise them anyway.
I suppose some of the snappish comebacks were (at least to some extent) spoken in jest, but I promise that you, as a writer, can actually win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry: It will happen in the year after it became known that a representative number of readers have experienced multiple orgasms stimulated by your words only. Scientists around the globe (and not only these) will worship the ground beneath your feet.
Whether it is also possible for a writer to win the “Grammy”, I don’t know. What I do know is that, unless you are able to discuss your issues in less than 200 pages and set your words to bearable music, the odds are against it. So I’m afraid that going “green with envy” over this award will remain your closest association with one of the greatest poets of all times.