Bob Dylan–First Songwriter to Win a Nobel

For the first time in the history of the Nobel Prize for literature, a singer-songwriter has won–Bob Dylan. Including Dylan, there have been 113 literature prizes. The first was awarded in 1901 to the French poet Sully Prudhomme. The Nobel Prize site explains: “His (Prudhomme’s) elevated poetry fit in Alfred Nobel's formulation about works in an ideal direction.”

In selecting Dylan, the Nobel Prize committee says that Dylan is important “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

So, perhaps we should not be surprised at this development. The New York Times recently had an article about Harvard classics professor, Richard F. Thomas, who has been teaching a seminar on Bob Dylan for years (see “The Coolest Class at Harvard? It’s ‘Bob Dylan” – NYT, Saturday October 15, 2016). The professor says of Dylan:

“In his intertextuality, he’s like Virgil or Ovid. …I don’t see any difference between a poet like Catullus or Virgil or Bob Dylan.... It has to do with control of language, connecting of lyrics and melodies. That’s what makes it timeless.”

Courses on Bob Dylan have been and are taught at Dartmouth College in the English Department, Boston University, and more. The prestigious The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006) included the lyrics of Dylan’s "Desolation Row".

The Nobel is one of many significant awards bestowed on Dylan. Among these are: eleven Grammys, a Golden Globe, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a 2008 Pulitzer for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

And what does the Mercer County Library System have to offer you as you explore Bob? A Great Deal!

Dylan Music

Highway 61 Revisited
Of course we have many musical recordings–over 40 compact discs titles, including the great Dylan classic albums:

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963), The Times They Are A’Changin’( 1964), Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964), Bringin’ It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), The Basement Tapes, Complete, John Wesley Harding (1967), Nashville Skyline (1969), Planet Waves (1974), World Gone Wrong (1993), Time Out of Mind (1997), Love and Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006).

Dylan on Film

I'm Not There
Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes ContinuedThe library has six DVD titles about Dylan: some biographical, some an examination of his music: Bob Dylan: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Bob Dylan: Revealed, Bob Dylan–Don't Look Back, Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued, No Direction Home.

For a very unconventional experience, check out the fictional drama, I'm Not There, where six different actors, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw, embody different eras in Bob Dylan's career.

The film title, I’m Not There, comes from a song on one of Dylan’s 1967 basement tapes that had not been officially released until it was used on the film's soundtrack album. Learn more about these basement tapes, by watching Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued.

Dylan Children Books

Man Gave Names to All the Animals
We have children’s books that feature Dylan lyrics. The very young (and young at heart) might start here:

Several picture books use illustrations to convey the Dylan lyrics. In Man Gave Names to All the Animals, Tim Arnosky’s beautiful illustrations of more than 170 animals accompany the lyrics to Dylan’s 1979 song; a music CD is included with the book. The song was featured on Dylan’s album Slow Train Coming and was also released as a single in Europe. It even was a chart hit in France and Belgium. However, it has not been as popular with American audiences. The refrain, with clear references to the Biblical story of creation in Genesis, goes:

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago

Forever Young
In Forever Young, illustrated by Paul Rogers, children will learn the words of the 1973 Dylan tune which has been recorded in two versions by Dylan: one fast and one slow. This song, like "Man Gave Names to All the Animals", has Old Testament Biblical references. The first lines echo verses in Book of Numbers:

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true

Book of Numbers:
May the Lord bless you and guard you
May the Lord make His face shed light upon you

Blowin’ in the Wind

And perhaps, if you are a child of the 60’s, there is a song that is so foundational to the Dylan opus, and so ingrained in our musical history, that many might think it is authorless–that it is a folk song without a known composer. That anthem of the era is Blowin’ in the Wind. This is also the title of the children’s book in which Jon J. Muth illustrates the Dylan lyrics.

Dylan wrote "Blowin’ in the Wind" in 1962 and it came out as a single and on his 1963 album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

Some call it a protest song–protesting the Vietnam War, the treatment of minorities in America–but ultimately, it has a timeless, universal quality–a song for all ages and all places.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
In 1994, "Blowin’ in the Wind" entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone magazine included it as #14 in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All time (special issue 963 of Rolling Stone). By the way, #1 in that list was another Dylan classic: "Like a Rolling Stone". The melody of "Blowin’ in the Wind" adapts a much older anonymous African-American spiritual "No More Auction Block". And again, there are Biblical references. Critic Michael Gray compares words from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel (12:1–2) "The word of the Lord came to me: 'Oh mortal, you dwell among the rebellious breed. They have eyes to see but see not; ears to hear, but hear not" to these lines In "Blowin' in the Wind":

Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?

Dylan Biography

Chronicles: Volume One
Among numerous Dylan biographies, one in particular stands out–Dylan’s 2004 autobiography Chronicles: Volume One.

Bob Dylan in America Dylan’s highly praised memoir reflects on the Greenwich Village scene in the early 1960’s when Bob first moved to the city–the coffee houses, the music making, loves and friendships, his creative impulse.

This might be the closest we can get to seeing the world through a Nobel prize artist’s eyes and a first-hand account of living in the almost mythical Village hub. In Bob’s words: "the times were a-changin’".

For a more objective take on Bob’s creative life, try the 2010 biography: Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz. Professor Wilentz is better known as a historian, teaching at Princeton University, and author of major works in American studies. Reviewers considered Bob Dylan in America one of the best studies of Dylan since Christopher Ricks' Dylan's Visions of Sin.

Dylan Interviews

Bob Dylan: Intimate Insights from Friends and Fellow Musicians
If you are interested in what Dylan says about his own work or what his contemporaries think, we have two interesting books of interviews.

Bob Dylan, the Essential InterviewsIn Bob Dylan: Intimate Insights from Friends and Fellow Musicians, major musicians and entertainers offer their thoughts on Bob, the importance of his work, and his influence on their own creativity. Friends and Fellows includes interviews from Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul, and Mary), Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Rivers, and more.

Bob Dylan, the Essential Interviews, published in 2006, brings together over thirty Dylan newspaper interviews or transcriptions of radio interviews. Included also are key articles drawn from the magazine Rolling Stone. The reflections span decades, starting with an interview with Dylan in 1962 for New York Radio Station WBAI-FM for the show Folksingers Choice, all the way up to a 2001 interview with Dylan for the Los Angeles Times. Sources include the New Yorker, the L.A. Free Press, the Chicago Daily News, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, various radio stations, and more.

—Karen S.


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