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The cabaret was quiet except for the drillin’ in the wall

October 14th, 2016, 12:57am by Sam Wang


Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Awesome. He is a big part of the America I love. To echo Josh Marshall, this news makes me optimistic.

The choice of Dylan breaks a drought in U.S. writers since Toni Morrison won in 1993. The award to Dylan makes sense in the light of this essay, which points out that winners often exemplify the spirit of their country, and U.S. writers often can’t be pigeonholed that way. Dylan is both a great songwriter and quintessentially American, and fits with the Nobel committee’s priorities.

Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts – Bob Dylan from Lívia Pio on Vimeo.

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22 Comments so far ↓

  • Tom Gavin

    The only person on the scene, missing, was the Jack of Hearts. What a great ironic line. Think about it. Missing, at the same time on the scene. Shakesperean! I disagree with John *and* Mike.

  • John

    Bob Dylan wrote many good songs, but his lyrics, while often catchy, are not great or enduring literature. Much of it seems like stuff you’d read in a high school literary magazine. He tends to write rhetorically rather than with the freshness and precision of poetry.

    I am also disappointed in this award because we have distinguished poets among us — Richard Wilbur for example — who deserve to become better known –just as Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Crowe Ransom deserved to be so honored. But none of these great or good poets were so recognized.

    I suspect that the Academy is using prizes to try to fix America. Obama was awarded the Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush — certainly a valuable thing. Bob Dylan has been awarded the Literature prize for not being Donald Trump — a most valuable thing indeed.

    But literary quality seems to matter little to the Academy, at least when they turn their attention to America. We have distinguished and characteristically American writers well deserving of the honor. America has not been well served by the Academy.

  • Randal

    I am in complete agreement with Sam and the supportive comments here. The fact that “Desolation Row” and “Visions of Johanna” and many others were written to be sung adds to their genius, and in no way diminishes their standing as literature.

  • Howie Weiner

    I am thrilled at Dylan’s Nobel Prize. Richly deserved his poetry/lyrics are the strongest of our time. I’ve listened to his music everyday for years, decades, it is such a part of my life don’t know how I would survive without it! I feel like not only did he win but my whole generation, all of us, what we fought for, stood for and still do.
    “For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
    An’ for every hung up person in the whole wide universe
    An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing”
    Way to go Bob your music and words are for the ages!

  • Mike

    I’m sorry, I love Sam’s work and find this community a safe harbor in a world where we are constantly mis-served by the mainstream media. But Dylan was a literary musician and songwriter, not a writer of literature. It’s like giving the Nobel Prize in political science to E.J. Dionne, a fine pundit, but not a social scientist. And I love Dylan and consider him a true artist and along with Paul Simon and all the great writers of the American Songbook (see Rodgers and Hart) hugely important. But there are qualitative differences between Dylan and Nabokov or Wolfe, or James or Stein or take your pick. But no one respects literary scholarship like they do other disciplines. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/13/a-world-that-gives-bob-dylan-a-nobel-prize-is-a-world-that-nomin/

    • 538 Refugee

      You are disqualifying him for being able to say in 100/200 words what it took someone else 100,000 to convey?

  • Art

    Nothing is revealed

  • s khalsa

    Thanks so much for posting this. Awaiting surgery, the quote and the link gave me a smile.

  • RapperBC

    Fantastic to see you posted this, and what a great choice of songs as well.

    To paraphrase an old Virginia Slims ad:

    “You’ve come a long way, Bobby.”

  • anonymous

    Now that pop songs are Nobel eligible literature, can popular science also be considered? For example, would an alive Asimov be a possible winner?

    • Matt McIrvin

      I’ve always wanted them to recognize a superb talent in science fiction once in a while. Ursula Le Guin has been mentioned. They missed their chance with Stanisław Lem, who I think was one of the most brilliant literary talents of the 20th century in any genre.

    • Ed Wittens Cat

      we have the Hugos and the Nebulas
      we dont need a Nobel :)
      and Dylan is splendid poetry, which is a legit subset of literature.
      Subterranean Homesick Blues is my fav– protest music and the precursor of rap.

    • Jeremiah

      I guess you could say that we have the Grammys therefore we don’t need the Nobel for music too. I think Dylan might have won a few of them!

  • JPI

    I was so happy to see Dylan honored with the Nobel prize. I told my sister, “It looks like we’re not the only two Swedes that love Bob.” Blood on the Tracks is my favorite.

  • Olav Grinde

    I am still relishing the fact that Bob Dylan won the Nobel. And I recall this one line he wrote (Farewell, Angelina), on getting old:

    ”…and fiends nail time-bombs to the hands of the clocks…”

    Not bad for a 19-year-old songwriter!

  • bks

    But even the president of the United States
    Sometimes must have to stand naked

    https://youtu.be/mYajHZ4QUVM

  • Ann

    I like how your post title can be read two ways.

  • Jewish Steel

    That is absolutely my favorite Dylan song, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.

  • pechmerle

    With God on Our Side (lyrics):
    https://play.google.com/music/preview/Tyvtxtyg5mef3x7tamp7hoffgia?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-songlyrics

    When I first heard this, it pierced my soul. Its relevance in today’s brutal world seems no less than when it came out — surely the mark of great poetry. That its final question is still unanswered is heart-wrenching.

  • Shawn Huckaby

    I find it encouraging that the Academy chose to broaden the definition of literature. Great writing should be embraced and honored wherever we find it. At its best Dylan’s writing is genius with or without music.

  • Damien

    Highway 61 Revisited is my favorite album of his… and one of my personal top 5 favorite albums in existence.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BKQdl9jsO4