“It’s been a long, long time coming
But I know a change gonna come
Oh, yes it will”
Sam Cooke (1964)
It has been a long time coming, indeed. The Nobel Prize has expanded its previous boundaries to accept lyrics put to music, lyrics composed of the same elegance as the masters. This is absolutely the right thing to do; should have been done long ago.
Dylan’s lyrics transcend almost all of what constituted text for music, especially rock. Most song lyrics don’t really hold up without the music. Most if not all of the lyrics are either nonsense or superfluous, created to match the “feel” of the melody and largely ignored. Dylan changed all that radically.
Dylan’s eponymous first album full of standards in1962 didn’t create much stir. It was his second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, containing 11 of 13 original songs (1963) that pretty much single handedly created the “folk” era and put Greenwich Village on the map. The litany of his continued work has never been equaled, now finally to be recognized in traditional literary circles.
Not everyone is thrilled with the prospect. An editorial yesterday in the New York Times decried the choice, opining that the Grammies are the right place for songwriters, not the same company as Steinbeck, Sartre and Beckett. But this is the nonsense of supercilious purists. The lyrics are what they are and they are the product of the same species of genius.
There is precedent for alternative views of classical literature. It isn’t the first time that a Nobel has been awarded to a non-writer. Winston Churchill won in 1953 for his oratory. In 2015, when the prize went to the Belarussian journalist Svetlana Alexievich for her historical narratives.
Mr. Dylan is the first American to win the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993. Thick books have been written exploring his lyrics. Classes at universities are taught about him. For the first time, Mr. Dylan’s lyrics are considered to stand alone as poetry. He has been compared to Homer and Sappho, whose works were delivered orally.
Through the years, Dylan has changed his visions according to the tempers of the times. His many honors include Grammys and Academy and Golden Globe awards. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, won a special Pulitzer Prize in 2008 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
He is a stellar American literary icon and most deserving of this Nobel honor. Hearty congratulations to him.