Bob Dylan, 75, is the first musician to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. This could be the most radical choice in a history stretching back to 1901 when the award was first set up by Alfred Nobel. In choosing a popular musician for the literary world’s highest honour, the Swedish Academy, has set off a debate about whether song lyrics have the same artistic value as poetry or novels.
The author Salman Rushdie said he was delighted with Dylan’s win and confessed that his lyrics had been “an inspiration to me all my life ever since I first heard a Dylan album at school. The frontiers of literature keep widening, and it’s exciting that the Nobel Prize recognises that.”
But others called the academy’s decision misguided and questioned whether song writing, however brilliant, rises to the level of literature. Irvine Welsh said that, “His haunting music and lyrics have always seemed, in the deepest sense to touch human hearts. “ However, she added that despite being a Dylan fan she believed that “this is an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”
I think Bob Dylan’s ideas are deeply poetic and there is no doubt that he is regarded as one of the most influential figures in contemporary popular culture, though his music has always proved divisive. Dylan can never be accused of choosing trivial themes; his lyrics cover such profound topics as war, heartbreak, betrayal, death and moral faithlessness in songs that bring beauty to life’s greatest tragedies.
Shakespeare’s themes were humanity’s deep misfortunes too, but he composed plays and poetry for commercial profit. He wrote what was popular and crowd-pleasing. Nowadays he is considered one of the greatest poets of the English language but his poetic talents were only recognised after his death. To me it seems that Dylan is a poet at heart, but poets find it hard to earn a living in today’s world. I wonder if our nascent poets are forced to turn to writing song lyrics in order to survive. Bob Dylan’s work has not always been appreciated by the literary highbrow, but it has always been loved by ordinary people. This doesn’t make him any less a poet.
Thankfully, Bob Dylan’s poetic creativity has been recognised while he is still alive, unlike Shakespeare.