Giving the Nobel Prize in Literature to a musician is no different than giving an actor a Grammy or a musician an Oscar or a pop star a CMA Award. Or I don’t know, maybe electing a reality TV star President.
Can any of these individuals turn in an effort of acceptable aptitude in whatever discipline they’re being awarded in despite it not being their life’s purpose? Of course they can. Do Bob Dylan’s songs work as standalone poems? Most certainly. Is Bob Dylan a man of letters beyond his music? Most assuredly. But Bob Dylan doesn’t deserve any distinction that is meant to go to someone who deals in the medium of literature exclusive of musical accompaniment. Giving him the Nobel Prize in Literature is a travesty for the art of the written word which is a dying medium dangling by a thread in a manner that makes all the concerns about the dwindling economic viability of music seem frivolous.
Look, I love Bob Dylan. And the only regret of my Bob Dylan fandom is that I run a country music website that doesn’t allow me to express my love and respect for his music as much as I wish. His album Blood On The Tracks is one of my tops of all time, and that came out a decade after he revolutionized music and culture all around the world with the power of his words. And I say that without reservation, even with the full knowledge of all of Bob’s weird transgressions over the years, not limited to his recent take down of the sainted Merle Haggard that he later haphazardly, but luckily, apologized for.
Aside from Willie Nelson, there is no other musical creature alive on planet Earth that deserves more praise for their auditory contributions to human civilization than Bob Dylan. But he doesn’t deserve a literary prize, especially one that is so rare to be bestowed, and especially at a time when literature is so under siege, and so necessary to re-institute if civilization is ever going to reel itself back towards sanity.
It’s so fitting that in 2016 were giving the Nobel Prize in Literature to a popular musical star. No wonder we’re in the shape we’re in. It’s the most 2016 thing that could possibly happen. When so few can find the time to read a sentence—let alone a book—what else do you expect? Excuse me, but can you deliver what you have to say in video or podcast form? Sorry, I’m too busy to read what you’re trying to convey. Can you set it to music so I can pay attention?
And the foundation behind all cognitive thought collapses.
As much of a musical fan as I am, and a Bob Dylan fan specifically, I’m a bigger fan of institutions staying in their lanes. We need literary prizes to go to literary contributors, music awards to go to musicians, country awards to go to actual country artists, and so on and so forth because we need all hands on deck right now, and the aces in their places. You want to know why it appears true journalism in dead in 2016? Because we’re giving away the industry’s highest honors to entertainers.
The case could be made that Bob Dylan deserves the Nobel Peace Prize before the literary one. As Jimmy Carter—a Nobel Peace Prize recipient himself in 2002—said in introducing Bob Dylan at a Grammy event in February 2015 (the same event where Dylan criticized Haggard incidentally), “Mr. Dylan’s words on peace and human rights are much more incisive, much more powerful and much more permanent than those of any president of the United States.”
So there. Give Dylan the Peace Prize. But the Nobel committee determined they couldn’t do that I guess, but they wanted to give Dylan something because they are really, really big Bob Dylan fans apparently. So screw some literary contributor who could actually use the publicity and would be honored by the distinction. Instead let’s make this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature a vehicle for some committee members to reciprocate their fandom to a man who doesn’t give a shit about it.
I know I’m not saying anything new on this subject—and that these words are somewhat tardy. But I hope I’m doing a fair service in representing an actual music fan who can also see the folly of giving Bob Dylan this award as opposed to whatever pasty bookworm deserves it. But the worst part about this award decision is that Bob Dylan doesn’t even seem to care, or may not believe he deserves it either. As is being reported, Dylan has yet to acknowledge the accolade, and isn’t even returning the Nobel committee’s phone calls. Maybe Dylan will snap out of it at some point and show up to their little award ceremony. After all, that’s the point of giving a Nobel Prize to Dylan, right? So folks will actually pay attention to your shindig whenever it goes down?
But it’s Bob Dylan. If you didn’t know there wasn’t at least the possibility he would brush off your little award moment or even admonish it, you’re clearly not a Bob Dylan fan, and probably shouldn’t be giving him anything in the first place. Sorry, Bob’s too busy to acknowledge your accolade; he’s too busy being Bob Dylan. So you don’t even get your big publicity moment, if it doesn’t blow up right in your face.
And save your wind about how the Nobel Prize committee lost the credibility many years ago. Of course they did. But all the more reason to get back on course now. In 2016, we need institutions like the Nobel Prize to rise to the challenges presenting us. And we need Bob Dylan to be Bob Dylan more than ever. And that’s why the two should remain exclusive of each other. Thank God Bob Dylan at least gets that. At least for the moment.