The Nobel Times, They Are a-Changin’

Last week the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan, the first musician to earn this pinnacle award. Many were startled at this choice, given that Dylan’s prose is absorbed through song. He wasn’t the front-runner. And apparently a week later, he hasn’t acknowledged the prize. Not sure if that’s consistent with his style, as I don’t consider myself a Dylan fan.  I’m also not particularly familiar with his lyrics besides the iconic songs we all learned along the way. Nothing personal but I was happier listening to the Rolling Stones than folksingers.

Biases aside, I think we can all agree that many of the rock-and-roll greats credit Dylan as an important influence on their careers. And amazingly, he’s been at it for over 50 years. I Googled namesake Alfred Nobel’s intent for this award and according to his wishes, the prize should go to a writer with “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Notably, Alfred didn’t qualify writers of a particular output – e.g. a novel versus a song.

So while I may be ill-qualified to tough to weigh on Dylan’s selection, here’s what I can say.

  • If a song is good, we memorize the lyrics and listen to it again and again. Not sure that’s always true of a good book.
  • When a writer scores a hit, the chances of repeating that success are limited. Long-term careers for authors or singer/songwriters are for a talented (or lucky) few.
  • Writing something that reflects cultural sentiment and that helps stoke awareness and change is a rarity. How many “Blowin’ in the Wind” type ballads, books or poems can you list?

Maybe the Nobel Prize Committee recognized that today we absorb content across a broad variety of media. And by awarding the prize to an iconic songwriter, maybe they’re simply redefining literature. Not sure that book clubs will start analyzing lyrics anytime soon, but the next time you find yourself memorizing the words to a song, think about this Dylan award. Not all songs are Nobel-prize worthy. But perhaps the songwriting genre has just earned recognition as an influential method for sharing ideas and prompting thought and emotions. Sounds like a happy ending to me!

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