On Thursday, the Nobel Academy announced the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. The winner? Bob Dylan. Dylan is the first musician to ever be awarded the prize. It's been viewed as a somewhat radical decision on the part of the committee, pushing the boundaries of what is viewed as literature, and what is not.
Responses to the news have been split into three camps: "Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize this is amazing," "Bob Dylan? Meh. Who cares," and "But he's a musician!" I fall into the first category. Not only does Bob Dylan deserve this award, it's actually overdue.
For anyone who doesn't know, Bob Dylan is an extremely influential singer/songwriter. He began performing in New York in the 1960s and he's never really stopped. He's a folk musician, though some of his music is considered to be classic rock. He has an unusual voice, which means that people usually either love or hate his music, and he's famous for his harmonica. Dylan is an iconic figure in music, and while he has denied being "the voice of a generation," many feel that his songs embody the American experience in different eras.
Not only does his music appeal to the average person, his lyrics, unlike those of most songs, hold up incredibly well without musical accompaniment. Here's an excerpt from one of his most famous songs, "Blowin' in the Wind"
Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take 'till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind
(Listen to this song here.)
Academics have spent years analyzing his verses and agree that they hold up as poetry without the lyrics. His songs are taught at colleges around the country, and it is an agreed-upon fact that he changed the music industry.
But, according to the Academy, none of these are the reason he won the Nobel Prize. He didn't win because of his lyricism, but “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He won for making new ways to write lyrics and expanding ideas of musical expression.
So, to everyone saying Dylan doesn't deserve this award, I'm sorry, but you're wrong.If Winston Churchill can win the same prize for the speeches he gave, then Dylan can win it for a lifetime of accumulated poetry.
He's been an active performer for 50 years. His lyrics are recognized as excellent poetry, without the aid of music. And, the Nobel Prize usually goes to a writer whose work shows social awareness. Robert Hillburn, a music critic from the Los Angeles Times who interviewed Dylan on multiple occasions said, "He made you think. He was talking about life, politics, civil rights — he made music the equivalent of books."
Bob Dylan fits all the criteria. Couple that with the fact that he's been considered for the Prize multiple times in the past and never won, and it's not surprising that he won.
It's just time.