I’ve just listened to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Lecture which was described as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘eloquent’ by the Swedish Academy’s permanent secretary Sara Danius. ‘Rambling’ was the word that came to my mind but that’s okay because that’s Dylan, and I’ve always been a fan. But the word that really springs to my mind is ‘Why’. Why?
I do not presume to diminish Dylan’s contribution to the world of words but, seriously, I have to ask: With the number of wonderful literary names alive in the world today, why did the prize have to go to a musician and lyricist? And, if such a radical move was warranted, why Dylan above the (now late) great Canadian, Leonard Cohen? In addition to providing a poetic and lyric backdrop to our lives, the always erudite and entertaining Cohen socially and philosophically influenced our times dynamically.
When I think of the Nobel Prize for Literature, I think, firstly, of books. Yes, Dylan has published books – seven books of his drawings and paintings, some collections of the lyrics to his songs, a memoir and one work of prose poetry. Let’s face it, he is not known for his books. He is known for his lyrical compositions and the profound impact he has made in the music industry, winning a slew of awards and breaking record sales.
Leonard Cohen published books of song lyrics too. But he also wrote two extraordinary novels (The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers) and published over a dozen collections of poetry.
The announcement of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature may very well have been the straw to tip the burden. By all accounts, Cohen was a good, decent, kind man but I feel somewhere deep in his soul, a tiny pebble of bitter sadness may have vied with his congratulatory thoughts toward his fellow lyricist. He died less than a month after the announcement that Bob Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.
In Dylan’s lecture, delivered as a recording rather than presented in person, there’s a strange kind of book review – or three to be precise – followed by a roundabout questioning of what literature is. He says: ‘But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read.’ I agree with him there and so I am left with that same word when I think about the Swedish Academy’s 2016 decision . . . WHY?