Bob Dylan made history this week by becoming the first singer-songwriter to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. However, the award is not being met with universal acclaim. The New York Times explains:
Mr. Dylan, 75, is the first musician to win the award, and his selection on Thursday is perhaps the most radical choice in a history stretching back to 1901. In choosing a popular musician for the literary world’s highest honor, the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize, dramatically redefined the boundaries of literature, setting off a debate about whether song lyrics have the same artistic value as poetry or novels.
Up until Dylan, the award had been reserved for novelists and poets, so it comes as no surprised that some voices in the community would be upset:
“Bob Dylan winning a Nobel in Literature is like Mrs Fields being awarded 3 Michelin stars,” the novelist Rabih Alameddine wrote on Twitter. “This is almost as silly as Winston Churchill.”
Jodi Picoult, a best-selling novelist, snarkily asked, “I’m happy for Bob Dylan, #ButDoesThisMeanICanWinAGrammy?”
I disagree. Dylan revolutionized music because he made it literature. Thus, he deserves to be recognized not just for his songs but his lyrics as well, which are fundamentally poetry.
Before Dylan, singing was seen almost as another instrument. The content of lyrics didn’t matter much and furthermore weren’t that interesting.
Dylan, on the other hand, shook up an already turbulent time — the 1960s — by addressing political issues head on in his lyrics. There’s a reason he was called the voice of his generation. Songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” took on the futility of war right at the start of Vietnam:
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
Ever the revolutionary, Dylan’s lyrics touched on everything from the wrongful conviction of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter to the declining role of labor unions in America to accepting Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. Yes, he went through an evangelical phase.
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Though his themes often shifted throughout his life, the quality of Dylan’s lyrics always remained the same. Furthermore, his shape-shifting has almost become an act of art in itself, reminding the world that we as humans are in a state of constant change. Other greats like Prince and David Bowie have similarly wowed the world with their artistic range, and Dylan is no different.
For the quality of his lyrics, for his influence on politics, for his raw humanity, Bob Dylan well deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature. I raise a toast to the Swedish Academy for rightfully recognizing that art has no arbitrary boundaries.