Published On: Thu, Oct 13th, 2016

Legendary singer, songwriter Bob Dylan awarded Nobel for literature


Legendary singer, songwriter Bob Dylan awarded Nobel for literature

He won it “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Stockholm: Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the Swedish Academy said on Thursday in awarding the 8 million Swedish crown ($927,740) prize.

Bob Dylan is known for popular songs like “Blowin’ in The Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin”, which also became anthems for America’s civil rights movement and also for the anti-war movement in the 70s.

He has previously been inducted to  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame, and also won the Pulitzer Prize for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power,” in 2008.

Reporters and others gathered at the Swedish Academy’s headquarters in Stockholm’s Old Town reacted with a loud cheer as his name was read out.

Dylan, 75, is arguably the most iconic poet-musician of his generation. Songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin'” became anthems for the U.S. anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s. His impact on popular culture was immense.

But although he had been mentioned in the Nobel speculation for years, many experts had ruled him out, thinking the academy wouldn’t extend its more than a century-old award to the world of music.

They were wrong. The academy’s permanent secretary, Sara Danius, said while Dylan performs his poetry in the form of songs, that’s no different from the ancient Greeks, whose works were often performed to music.

“Bob Dylan writes poetry for the ear,” she said. “But it’s perfectly fine to read his works as poetry.” Dylan is the first American winner of the Nobel literature prize since Toni Morrison in 1993.

Born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, Dylan grew up in a Jewish middle-class family.
By his early 20s, he had taken the folk music world by storm. From that time on, he would constantly reinvent himself – often enraging followers in the process – but then later winning them back and adding new admirers. His career was such a complicated pastiche of elusive, ever-changing styles that it took six actors to portray him in the 2007 movie based on his life, “I’m Not There.”

Although generally described as a rock musician, Dylan has been influenced by numerous musical styles, including country, gospel, blues, folk, pop, and rhythm and blues. Pursuing them all, sometimes separately and other times simultaneously, he remains a towering influence over music and popular culture.

He won an Academy Award in 2001 for the song “Things Have Changed” and received a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1991. In 2008, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his contributions to music and American culture.

Literature was the last of this year’s Nobel prizes to be awarded. The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.

Here are some lyrical marvels from Dylan’s diverse list of hits.

1. It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Performed first in 1964 and recorded a year later, this song is described as a ‘grim masterpiece’ and features some of Dylan’s most memorable lyrics till date. With haunting lyrics, the song means a lot to Dylan.

           “Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their marks
Made everything from toy guns that sparks
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much Is really sacred.”


2. ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’

This popular track is one of Dylan’s songs known for surrealist imagery and taking inspiration from artists. The interpretations of the track range from religious ideas to a call for the singer’s muse and even a reference to drugs like LSD. Unlike ‘I’m Only Bleeding’, this song is described as bright as it calls on the character to play a song as the narrator follows.

          “Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship
My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels
To be wanderin’
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it.”


3. ‘I Shall Be Released’

Another song that resonated with the youth in the late 60s, this track talks of a prisoner yearning to be released and talks about the cruelty of the justice system while also serving as an anthem for rights groups.

     “Standing next to me in this lonely crowd,
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame.
All day long I hear him shout so loud,
Crying out that he was framed.
I see my light come shining
From the west onto the east.
Any day now, any day how,
I shall be released.”


4. ‘All Along The Watchtower’

The song which Bob Dylan has performed live more than any other song of his, ‘All Along The Watchtower’ is called Dylan’s most haunting track ever, as it tells the tale of a clown who thinks he is being robbed and a thief that sees everything as a joke. The song promises an epic ballad in the beginning but soon the end of the song comes up, intriguing the listener and leaving space for their own interpretation.

      “There must be some kind of way out of here, ”
Said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Business men – they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth.”


5. ‘The Times They Are a-Changing’

Written with the intention of creating a song for change, the track proved very influential among the youth in the 60s as well as coming decades. The universal appeal of Dylan’s lyrics made the song a timeless message of change and has been covered by an array of artists. Steve Jobs also recited a verse of the song at his first shareholders meeting in 1984 and the song proved as an inspiration for the anti-war movement.

     “Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin”


Dylan’s lyrics and their timeless appeal have inspired generations and have been adopted as anthems for rights movements as well as young minds that went on to bring change. He gave a new dimension to storytelling through songs.

About the Author

Syed Ammar Alavi

- is Lahore (Pakistan) based journalist & writer with 25-year experience in print, wire and broadcast forms of journalism. His major fields of interest are politics, film,tv,sports, climate change and technology

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