Allen Ginsberg said Bob Dylan was “the best poet of the second half of the century.” That century is exhausted, but Dylan is alive and well, and today added a Nobel Prize to his trophy case. The Literature Prize.
Yes, the boy from Minnesota who changed his name from Robert Allen Zimmerman to Bob Dylan and moved to New York City in 1961 and conquered the music world has been honored by the Swedish Academy, a fitting and proper honor indeed.
Tangled up in blue. You’re a big girl now. The pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handle. Your cracked country lips I still wish to kiss. Those lines are eternal, simple yet lasting. You know them, or should, and there are countless others. Dylan — poetry forever on his mind, he early on assumed “Dylan” from the great Welsh wordsmith — has been writing his life forever, lines and stories from days and nights spent with strangers and friends and lovers in apartments and cabins and on stages and in dressing rooms. He has chronicled the decades, eras full of war, love, despair, anger, ecstasy, turmoil, hypocrisy.
What else can a poet — should a poet — do?
I’ve seen Dylan in concert a number of times, on Long Island and in Huntsville, Alabama, in Madison Square Garden and West Palm Beach. Different periods, songs reinterpreted, bands evolving. But always he sings with all he has. The audiences listen.
Dylan, who is 75, had long been mentioned as Nobel material, and he’s the first American to be awarded the Literature Prize since 1993, when Toni Morrison was honored. “Dylan has recorded a large number of albums revolving around topics like the social conditions of man, religion, politics and love,” the Swedish Academy wrote in a biographical note. “The lyrics have continuously been published in new editions, under the title ‘Lyrics.’ As an artist, he is strikingly versatile; he has been active as painter, actor and scriptwriter.”
Dylan’s oeuvre is full of imagery and ideas worthy of much thought and time. Listen to the music and melodies and delivery. Trains and blood and horses and poker games and mysterious women and dams and bridges: Dylan’s world encompasses vistas and streets of laughter, silence, and joy, death and ennui and resignation. Here’s “Visions of Johanna”:
One can get lost in the alleyways and dead ends of his lines and enjoy being lost. Dylan is a poet. He is a writer. He is a singer. Don’t like his voice? That’s alright, mama, because he’ll keep on singing and praying and talking and thinking and touring until it all runs down.
The Nobel award includes a prize of 8 million Swedish kroner, or a little more than $900,000.