He is, of course, a ‘song and dance man’. And his prize was in recognition of his achievement in “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. If doing so is the criterion for the winning the prize, there is surely no argument.
But there is argument.
When Kissinger received his prize, Tom Lehrer famously announced that he was giving up satire, because nothing could compete with such an egregious decision. In Bob’s case, the usual suspects have banged out their few hundred words in the Murdoch press and worse referencing songs such as Wiggle Wiggle to illustrate their point that Dylan is a singer who can’t sing, a writer who can’t write, and – this is a new one on me – someone who doesn’t return calls.
The final issue is the easiest addressed: as John Updike wrote in his exquisite essay in the New Yorker on the occasion of the final appearance - and final home run – of Ted Williams at Fenway park, “gods do not answer letters”.
But it’s the first two issues which seem to be the most prevalent and persuasive; which are also, of course, matters of judgement and opinion.
Can he sing? Of course he can.
He can sing in one or more of a repertoire of many voices. He sings to suit the song and the style and his mood and the meaning. You may not like the voice which he adopts at a particular gig, but that’s your problem. As Michael Gray says, when faced with someone who claims not to like Bob’s voice, “Which voice?”
Can he write? Of course he can. Consider this:
Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy bench
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
Yes, it is something quite extraordinary when it’s a song. But recite it. Speak it to yourself as one would – hell, why not? - as one would a Keats ode. This is writing. This is literature. And so is Desolation Row. So is Mississippi. So is Blind Willie McTell. And so are any number of others, although not, I confess, Wiggle Wiggle – which for the record is of course a nursery rhyme of a particularly nasty sort; had it been written by Roald Dahl, it would have been praised to the heavens.
Many years ago, I read 'English Literature' at a university which placed great emphasis on the great tradition. I read Anglo-Saxon and Middle English. I read metaphysical and romantic poetry, including the Lyrical Ballads. I read the Victorian novels and all that modernist stuff.
They were all part of the tripos. So they must be literature, right?
But much of my reading was extra-curricular. I read Sartre and de Beauvoir, Camus, Kafka and Kierkegaard. I read Auden and Spender. I read Leavis and Lukacs. I read Marcuse and Marx, Hegel and Heidegger, Raymond Williams and George Orwell.
And I listened to Dylan and the Dead, to Jefferson Airplane and the Soft Machine, to Bach and Beethoven and Shostakovich. Especially Shostakovich.
Genres. Who needs ‘em?
Today from the everysmith vaults: Bob. Masses of Bob.