Today US singer Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first songwriter to win the prestigious award.
The 75-year-old rock legend received the prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. The balladeer, artist and actor is the first American to win since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993.
His songs include Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times They are A-Changin’, With God on our side, Slow Train coming, Like a Rolling Stone, and at least 100 more that became standards.
Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said Dylan had been chosen because he was “a great poet in the English speaking tradition”. “For 54 years now he’s been at it reinventing himself, constantly creating a new identity,” she told reporters in Stockholm.
Dylan – who took his stage name from the poet Dylan Thomas – had long been tipped as a potential prize recipient. Few experts, though, expected the academy to extend the award to a genre such as folk rock music. Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion is among those to have previously praised Dylan’s lyrics, saying his songs “work as poems”. “They have often extremely skilful rhyming aspects to them,” he told the BBC. “They’re often the best words in the best order.”
What makes a man who has only ever written three books a suitable winner of the Nobel Prize for literature? Bob Dylan arguably made the lyrics more important than the music.
Few would argue that is his lyrics demonstrate a mixture of political questioning, religious exploration and interest in humanity which has been woven through his work for more than 50 years and has secured him this award.
The result also demonstrates a real change for the prize. In 112 years, no songwriter has ever won before. The decision elevates song lyrics to being on a critical par with literature, poetry and playwriting. It’s a big step away from the self-perpetuating intellectualism and elitism for which the award had been criticised.
Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941 and began his musical career in 1959, playing in coffee houses in Minnesota. Much of his best-known work dates from the 1960s, when he became an informal historian of America’s troubles. Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They are A-Changin’ were among anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements.
His move away from traditional folk songwriting, paired with a controversial decision to “go electric” proved equally influential. Dylan’s many albums include Highway 61 Revisited in 1965, Blonde on Blonde in 1966 and Blood on the Tracks in 1975.
Since the late 1980s he has toured persistently, an undertaking he has dubbed the “Never-Ending Tour”.
– BBC News Entertainment & Arts
The first time I met Bob Dylan was in Salem, OR 1980 when he was touring as a follow up to his record “Slow Train Coming”. The show was amazing, it was technically perfect and highly inspirational. He played every song on the record and a number of his old hits like “A Rolling Stone”.
“Slow Train Coming” was released Aug. 20, 1979 by Columbia Records. It was recorded at Muscle Shoals Studios, Sheffield, Alabama, 1 – 6 May 1979. The studio musician were some of the finest players in the business: Mark Knopfler: Guitar, Pick Withers: Drums,Tim Drummond: Bass, Barry Becket: Keyboards/ Percussion, Carolyn Dennis, Helena Springs, Regina Havis: Background Vocals
The next time I saw him was September 22, 1985, in Champaign, Illinois at Farm Aid. I have seen him several times since over the years.
The press has always tried to pin him down re/ his faith, does he follow Judaism or Christianity ? Like everything else, when it come to his public image, he remains a mystery, probably even to himself…….
According to Dylan, his conversion to Christianity and the subsequent album, “Slow Train Coming” was brought about by two distinct and possibly related incidents in November 1978. At a low ebb physically, emotionally and spiritually, he picked up a silver cross that someone threw onto the stage during a concert in San Diego, California, something that by his own admission he would not normally do, and kept it. The following day in a Tuscon hotel room he had what he described as “…a born-again experience” and told of how “Jesus put his hand on me. It was a physical thing. I felt it…The glory of the Lord knocked me down and picked me up.”
Clearly in need of inspiration, divine or otherwise, it should have been no surprise that Dylan chose this method of expression when one considers that Biblical characters and events have always featured strongly in his writing. Indeed, a decade earlier “John Wesley Harding” had been a very spiritual album, and seen in retrospect, his most recent offering “Street Legal” had many religious allusions. Perhaps what did surprise was the intensity of his convictions and the strength of his writing.
After a three month stint at the Vineyard Fellowship, a Californian Bible study group, Dylan was writing prolifically, but confessed that these songs frightened him, and his original intention was to have Carolyn Dennis record them and not even take the credit for writing them. Thankfully he decided to rethink that decision and after seeing British band Dire Straits at L.A.’s Roxy, he approached band leader Mark Knopfler and asked him to play on the album. Knopfler apparently jumped at the chance to work with his idol.
The obvious choice for producer was veteran Jerry Wexler, a man whose musical background was steeped in gospel music, and who had recently produced Dire Straits second album “Communique.” He in turn enlisted the services of keyboard player Barry Beckett, who would later receive a co-producers credit on “Slow Train Coming.”
The irony of one Jew turning to another to produce an album of gospel songs was not lost on Wexler, and when Dylan tried to convert him, his response was blunt “Bob, you’re dealing with a sixty-two year old confirmed Jewish atheist…Let’s just make an album” he said, and make an album they did, one of the finest in Dylan’s impressive body of work.