More than half a century ago, Bob Dylan started his musical career. Little did we know, he wasn’t just a songwriter, he was also a poet. He is this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature recipient. That in itself is an incredible feat for a musician. Songwriters could use some writers’ tips from Mr. Dylan’s passion and creativity. As you will see, his accomplishments are quite expansive as a writer.
Some recent recipients of this award of late are – Alice Munro, Patrick Modiano, Svetlana Alexivich and Mo Yan, none of them sang their written works. And so the literary world went into a mini-uproar when it heard the news. Which begs us to ask: Did Bob Dylan deserve his prize?
The Academy says yes
If you ask the Swedish Academy (prize giver for the Nobel Prize in literature), they will say it was not a difficult decision to give it to Dylan. And it’s a step towards progress because this category has sort of widened its frontiers by making an original choice. And there were plenty of accolades from the literary academe calling his work humane, funny, and most times angry – really one of the greats. This decision set off an argument of whether song lyrics are at league with poetry or novels in the artistic sense.
If you put Dylan’s lyrics on paper, you can read it like a hanging poem, something that is hard to make sense of. But add a melody and the words sink in and suddenly have meaning. His writing has a certain rhyming rhythm that sets him as a sort of word guru – a kind of genius in the song lyrics department. He uses rhetoric in a very organized manner and sometimes, scattered among the other lines of his song. A rhythmic chaos, so to speak – it’s brilliant!
Dylan’s voice is not among those memorable (think Sinatra) or iconic (think Freddie Mercury) ones people are accustomed to hearing. In fact, you could say his voice sounded as if his throat was dragged through gravel as he belts out his lyrics. What sets him apart and why he’s stood the test of time is that he just lets his words do the singing for him. A poet laureate that even the worst-sounding voice can make audiences stop, ponder and marvel at Dylan’s words.
Maybe he could have just stuck to poetry writing when he started his career. But the genius in him saw that with music, his poetry can reach more people. He knew that not a lot of people appreciate listening to the narrative voice of poetry, even if it was the most haunting and calming of all voices. With music and melody, his statement words reached a bigger audience.
A writer’s tips
Bob Dylan has sung his way as a poet through many different relevant issues. His songs reflected life in a very realistic way. He had protest songs when he wanted to be an advocate (“Oxford Town”), slave songs when he needed to be dark (“Blowin’ In The Wind”), Cold War songs when he wanted to be political (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”) and funny songs when he wanted to be whimsical (“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”). With his words, he could make audiences aware of what goes on in the world through songs of sadness, triumph, faith and deeper feelings. Any budding writer could take it all in as some great writing tips.
There is no doubt that Mr. Dylan deserved his award. He is considered a cultural figure in his 50 plus years in the industry. And it’s not because of his singing but because of his writing. This proves that poetry when given melody is in a literary league with Shakespeare’s poems, the Grimm brothers’ stories or Hemmingway’s plays.