Robert Zimmerman, took his artist´s name from the poet Dylan Thomas in the early 1960s. Since then Bob Dylan has been steadily bringing literary qualities to Pop music. He is generally seen as a major influence in the lyrics of such great performers as the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. And scores of others. Also his lyric style has always been regarded as unique and highly developed, drawing on a rich poetic tradition ranging from classical through symbolists like Arthur Rimbaud to American Beatnik poetry.
In giving Dylan this honour, the Nobel committee stressed the synthesizing qualities of Dylan´s lyrical work. Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy said that: "We're really giving it to Bob Dylan as a great poet - that's the reason we awarded him the prize. He's a great poet in the great English tradition, stretching from Milton and Blake onwards. And he's a very interesting traditionalist, in a highly original way. Not just the written tradition, but also the oral one; not just high literature, but also low literature." In the same vein Danius compared Dylan´s work to the 6th century Greek poet Sappho and even to Homer. Their work, like most Greek poetry, was meant to be combined with music and often chanted when performed. And one almost hears Dylan singing of meeting "an Italian poet/from the 15th century" in the song "Tangled up in Blue".
Dylan´s ability to blur the lines between low and high culture can be well agreed upon. The 1970s and 80s introduced a wave of academic post-modern critique of high culture as fabricated and mystifying. Yet Dylan managed to incorporate serious and poetic lyrics into popular melodies a decade or two earlier. Even his most famous and available songs like "Blowin´in the Wind" have both an immediate popular and literary appeal.
Still there are doubtless many who feel that this year´s decision is at heart controversial. The committee itself harboured such doubt. "We hoped the news would be received with joy, but you never know," said Danius. And there is indeed a wide spread mistrust of the pop singer turning literary in more academic circles. A case in the point is that pop singers rely on mass scale celebrity status to endure, and Dylan is no exception to this. One remembers for instance how the singer of the 60s band the Doors, Jim Morrison struggled to be perceived as a serious poet. One may wonder if he or other departed geniuses from the era would have been a candidate to the Nobel prize today.
Dylan´s most classical work were created in the 60s and 70s, with songs like "Hard rain´s gonna fall", "Like a rolling stone" and
"Lay lady, lay". Yet he continues to perform and to occasionally release new albums. Some hold that his lyrical and musical quality has faded over the years. And the Nobel committee, does not touch upon this aspect very much. Indeed it could be argued that to get a Nobel prize one should show continuing maturation and creativity in one´s work. Nevertheless, is the first American to win the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993. We congratulate a most deserving Bob Dylan with this honorable distinction!
- Sheila Parrera