LH Book Review Special: Bob Dylan

Theo Prineas

After five months of persuasion, Bob Dylan finally accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“High literature” is obsolete. Readers want entertainment. As a result, most people do not read classics on a regular basis. The Nobel Prize in Literature promoted this conservative view of literature by nominating the writers regarded as high-brow.

Writers and poets are in constant conversation with their predecessors and readers throughout history. Some of the greatest of these writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and most recently Bob Dylan, are recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Bob Dylan is the odd one out—he’s a folk-rock musician. This begs the question: what makes a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature?

Bob Dylan’s musicianship is not exactly outstanding. His voice is grating at best, and the melodies of his songs are sequential and nondescript. He often forgets his lyrics during performances and improvises. He’s a recluse. He almost turned down the prize. On the other hand, his unforgettable lyrics from songs like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ ‘Masters of War,’ and ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,’ fueled many protests of the Vietnam War during the 70s, resulting in his nickname, the “Voice of a Generation.” This is where Bob Dylan becomes literature. The defining literature of various movements, called ‘classics,’ represent the ideologies of the era, and Bob Dylan’s music represents how people were feeling during the ‘60s through the ‘90s. For many years, literature has been seen as highfalutin language sitting in unread books on a dusty shelf in a rich 90-year-old’s house. A musician like Bob Dylan winning this award means that the definition of literature is still alive and well, growing and changing with the times. Bob Dylan’s accessibility brings literature to blue collar and manual laborers as well as the rich and educated.

This is not to say that the classics can’t be relevant, but in today’s world, music is a lot more accessible than heavy literature. The truth is that most classics only represent the rich and educated, whereas Bob Dylan’s dual simplicity and depth make it easy for anyone to listen and enjoy.