Bob Dylan
The times they are a-changin'

Of course Bob would be hugely chuffed.

But largesse and recognition from the secretive gollums of Stockholm are only of use to the under-recognised. There is no sensible reason for the celebrated Philip Roth or Les Murray to keep anxious watch on their mobiles every October.

And of course there is also no reason for Bob to decline the glory and money, but the N-committee has confused meatballs and herring, wishfully giving a prize for a category that doesn’t exist on their list, i.e. music.

Dylan had a prodigious youth, producing all his seminal works by the time he was 35 with Blood on the Tracks and Desire (1975-76) — though inspired as he is he has produced any number of mid and late career gems. His extraordinary verbal facility (William Blake via Rimbaud and the Beats) that remade the rock lyric is only one component of a spectrum of qualities that make up the Bob Dylan experience. Way up there is also his amazing, if less celebrated, melodic gift. Then there is the distinctive timbre of the “high, wild mercury sound” (hat tipping the “high lonesome sound” of bluegrass) that was unleashed on Highway 61 Revisited in 1965, guaranteed to provoke a Pavlovian response from any boomer.

He created a mystery persona, still defensively deflective and opaque to this day, and authorised a whole new aesthetic for the voice: ugly is truthful is beautiful. For beyond the early phenomenal albums, his body of work is about the electricity of performance — his Never Ending Tour. Since 1988 Dylan has played more than 2800 live shows to millions of fans, taking the nasal wail of his mature vocals through to its magnificent wreck in the late 1990s and now to its final, disconcerting ruin. The living artist can always communicate things beyond the set text of words and music.

There is a Niagara-like grandeur to Dylan’s life work that the Nobel prize does not begin to comprehend as it tries to corral that sprawl into the polite ghetto of world Literature with the tepid accolade: “For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” The gollums should scuttle back behind their mahogany doors before Kanye and Kendrick turn their gaze to Sweden.

Peter Fray

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