Please allow me to introduce myself…
Oh, my bad. That’s the Stones. Maybe next year, fellows.
But please, do allow me to introduce myself as someone who has certainly been a Bob Dylan fan in my time. That time is mostly in the past. Other than the (predictably) awful Christmas album – which I posted about way back in 2009, in 'When you're lost in the rain in Juarez, and it's Christmastime, too' (Bob Dylan's got "Christmas in the Heart.") – the last Dylan album I bought was Nashville Skyline in 1969. Whenever CD’s started replacing vinyl, I bought replacement CD’s for those albums, and I do occasionally play them. But I was a fan from the 1960’s up through the early 1970’s. Then I pretty much lost track of him, other than to be aware that he does a lot of corporate gigs, and that sometimes his songs show up in ads.
Still, Bob and I do go back a way.
When normal kids were mooning over Paul McCartney, I was playing my sister Kath’s Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and fantasizing that I was the long-haired girl on Bobby’s arm, strolling through a slushy street in the Village. My first Bob Dylan records were Kath’s. Then I started buying my own. At one point, I had the Peter Max Bob Dylan poster up on my wall. One of my sweetest college memories was walking across campus on a lovely spring morning and hearing “Lay Lady Lay” blasting out a dorm window. I’m pretty sure I could put any one of those early albums on and sing along without missing a word. When I want a good cry, I play Joan Baez covering “Forever Young”.
But while I have liked and admired his work over the year, I was stunned to read the news yesterday that Bob Dylan had been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. The first lyric that came to mind was “What’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this.”
My second thought was: WTF? I must call Kath.
So I picked up the phone to call my sister, when I saw that she’d beat me to the WTF punch, Kath having sent me this ‘nuf said text:
Dept. of WTF Bob Dylan Nobel Laureate
I just plain do not get it.
I’m not always familiar with, and have sometimes not even heard of the Nobel winners for literature. (I’m looking at you, Jean-Marie Gustave LeClézio).Sometimes I know the winners, but am not a big fan of their work (Orhan Pamuk). Sometimes I discover a writer and fall in love with their work, based on their having won the prize (Heinrich Böll). And sometimes I already know and love their work (Alice Munro).
But Bob Dylan. Sure, poetic, for a song writer. But he’s no Seamus Heaney (a past poet winner I was delighted to see get the award).
Any number of deserving writers come to my mind, starting with Edna O’Brien, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, serious writers who have contributed critical works of literature over many decades. Bob Dylan?
Kath and I aren’t the only ones who are WTF-ing-ly perplexed. (“I would not be so all alone…”)
The Guardian listed a bunch of reactions, and my favorite was a tweet from Guardian editor Alex Needham, who wrote:
Hello, it’s Alex Needham taking over this blog from New York. Earlier, I “reached out” (as we say in these parts) to Jonathan Franzen for his reaction to Dylan’s Nobel win. The eminent novelist replied:
It’s a bitter disappointment to those of us who hoped that Morrissey would win this year. But it gives us hope for next year.
I am a non-fan of Jonathan Franzen. (Give me Stewart O’Nan any old day.) And I would not be delighted to see him win the Nobel. But this is a gem.
Why Bob Dylan?
“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”
What will that zany Nobel prize committee think of next?