Dylan winning this award from the Nobel crew has divided opinion, with most either deriding it as the end of civilisation or questioning why such a thing took so long to happen. This is clearly part of the reason he got the award – which is part of the problem.
Instead of joining the cacophony I am going to try and seriously evaluate, as objectively as possible, Bob Dylan’s merits in regards to winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
First off, are the lyrics to the songs he wrote literary enough on their own to merit this level of serious adulation? As a big fan of Dylan’s work (which I should mention for reasons of disclosure alone), I can say that his lyrics range from the extreme banal to the extremely awful (the lyrics to “Wiggle Wiggle” should be examined in a fresh light after the Nobel nod) to the admittedly brilliant. But even the great ones work strictly as song lyrics – i.e. as words that sound good when sung by someone, particularly Bob Dylan – rather than as literature. What I mean is they sound semi-profound when The Band is pumping along behind but rather ordinary when read on the page.
There are musical lyrics that I would count as good enough to be considered poetry – but very, very few of them. David Berman’s stuff springs to mind. The fact that 99% of you will have to Google his name tells its own story; Bergman is a poet who tried to turn his poetry into music. Dylan, in my opinion, is no poet. Therefore, I don’t feel his lyrics should be eligible for the Nobel Prize of any type on their own.
He has written some books, though, so we should consider those. His first “novel” was the infamous “Tarantula”, which may very well be the worst book ever written. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourselves (you have been warned). So it appears that Dylan’s entire claim to literary greatness rests on one book, “Chronicles, Volume One”. This was a group of autobiographical chapters thrown together by Dylan, some of them set in the pre-fame early ’60s, some of them from the late ’60s, early 70s, after Dylan had suffered a burnout from which he never entirely recovered – at least, his mid-60s greatness was again never approximated never mind surpassed. The reason it was subtitled “Volume One” incidentally is because he was meant to write two further volumes. The first one came out in 2004. Dylan clearly didn’t get the Nobel Prize because of his work rate in regards to literature.
The “Chronicles” are okay when looked at compared to other celeb biographies. But nothing more than that.
So having evaluated the evidence, it strikes me that Mick Jagger is probably more worthy of a Nobel Prize for Literature (at least he never wrote his own “Tarantula”) than Dylan – and Mick Jagger is certainly not Nobel worthy. That’s what makes the grading of this so difficult. Bob Dylan deserves a Nobel Prize for Literature about as much as Donald Trunp deserves to be president of the United States. Which is to say not at all. So on a scale of ridiculousness regarding Dylan’s latest honour, I strangely have to give it a zero. Or infinity – either will do.
I suppose that the Nobel bunch already made a of a joke of themselves in handing Barack Obama a Nobel Peace Prize several years back. It all makes me want to rail about the world going to hell in a hand cart, but I don’t want to sound like an old man.
I supppose I should look on the bright side. My four year old daughter has started reading about biology and can speak about medical condidtions in a very, very cute (yet not altogether diagnostically accurate) manner. Next year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology? You never know these days.