Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

F&O this week

Bob Dylan playing Toronto, 1980. Photo by Jean-Luc Ourlin via Flickr/Wikipedia

Bob Dylan playing Toronto, 1980. Photo by Jean-Luc Ourlin via Flickr/Wikipedia

F&O’s Fresh Sheet this week features:

Focus on Bob Dylan, who this week won the Nobel Prize for Literature:

His Bob-ness joins Yeats, Beckett, and Eliot, by Rod Mickleburgh

In the winter of 1990, I waited with a handful of reporters and photographers in a grand salon of the Palais-Royal in Paris for Bob Dylan. More than 25 years ahead of the Nobel Prize people, the French had decided that Dylan’s lyrical prowess was worthy of the country’s highest cultural honour, Commandeur dans l’ Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. T.S. Eliot was one of the first to receive the award in 1960. Borges followed in 1962. And now, following in the footsteps of Sean Connery (1987), it was Bob’s turn.

No, Bob Dylan isn’t the first lyricist to win the Nobel, by Alex Lubet

A Bengali literary giant who probably wrote even more songs preceded Dylan’s win by over a century. Rabindranath Tagore, a wildly talented Indian poet, painter and musician, took the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

Are Bob Dylan’s songs “Literature?” by David McCooey

Dylan’s Nobel Prize shows up what the Swedish Academy has so far ignored in their award system: film, popular music, and the emerging forms of digital storytelling. Perhaps what this Nobel tells us more than anything is that “literature” or “poetry” are categories of our own making. To move beyond the page seems long overdue.

xxx

In Commentary:

Why Putin Fears a President Clinton, by Tom Regan  Column

Why would Russian work so hard to elect Trump? There are several theories– but I believe the reason is Vladimir Putin is terrified of Clinton.

“Only White People,” the Little Girl Told my Son, by Topher Sanders  Essay

I saw the messy birth of my son’s otherness … They were playing on one of those spinning things — you know, the one where kids learn about centrifugal force and as a bonus get crazy dizzy. They were having a blast. “Only white people,” said a little girl.

International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe is on the road this week. In case you missed it, his 2014 piece about Thailand’s succession is a must-read in light of Thursday’s death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej:  Uneasy lies the head that wears Thailand’s Crown.

To our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We exist only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, each, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

In Dispatches:

Nations Agree on Binding Pact to Cut Greenhouse Gases, by Clement Uwiringiyimana

Nearly 200 nations agreed to a legally binding deal to cut back on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners, a major move against climate change.

Drug Killings Divide, Subdue, Philippines’ Powerful Church, by Clare Baldwin and Manolo Serapio Jr

Catholic priests from the Philippines Church, an institution that helped oust two of the country’s leaders in the past, say they are afraid and unsure how to speak out against the war on drugs unleashed by new President Rodrigo Duterte. More than a dozen clergymen in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the thousands of killings in a war that has such overwhelming popular support. Challenging the president’s campaign could be fraught with danger, some said.

 

Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

East Africans thwart illegal fishing, by Emma Bryce

Eight East African countries are waging war on illegal fishing — and sometimes winning.

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Notebook:

The biggest, most important, most noteworthy news this week is in our dispatch listed above, Nations Agree on Binding Pact to Cut Greenhouse Gases.  Nearly 200 nations agreed this week to cut a greenhouse gas. It’s a story that’s not sexy. It’s about an Issue rife with bureaucracy, procedure, negotiation. And it’s an example of the only answer we have for the rage and misery infesting the world. It shows that we humans actually can tackle our problems, even the global-sized ones.

From elsewhere on the ‘net:

Mug shots of Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, charged in Kansas bomb plot. Photo: Police handout

Mug shots of Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, from a Kansas group police called “a hidden culture of hatred and violence.” Photo: Police handout

If this is not a case of “terrorism” I don’t know what is.  Three men in an American group called the “Crusaders” were arrested and charged in a FBI sting Friday, for allegedly plotting to blow up a Kansas mosque and apartment building, housing people from Somali.  Read the BBC report here. Like the 1995 Oklahoma city bombing by Timothy McVeigh with co-conspirators, it’s a reminder that terror comes in all skin colours, with fanaticism one common factor.

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October 16 is World Food Day. The focus, set by the United Nations, is on smallholder farmers in the poor countries most affected by climate change. And in the meantime,  the U.S. Agriculture Department said American producers have dumped 43 million tons of excess milk so far this year. The WSJ report is here.

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Opposition by one region of Belgium may have scuppered CETA, the Canada and European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which proponents hoped to sign this fall. Find the AP report on CBC, here.

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US First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech this week that will resonate throughout history. Watch below — the first six minutes are marred by technical problems — or read the full text on NPR.

A contagion of clowns struck long before Halloween loomed, marauding everywhere, garishly populating all news and social media feeds. I have not seen one decent explanation of why this is happening now — best guess is that clowns and our fears represent our crazed state of politics, economics and environmental security. This piece on The Conversation by psychologist Frank McAndrew explains that many of us dislike clowns because we can’t read them, and are unsure how to react.

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A Wall Street Journal feature, Blue Feed, Red Feed, aims to pull the tarps off our silos, and reveal the partisan and polarized compartments that trap us in polarization on social media.  “Facebook’s role in providing Americans with political news has never been stronger—or more controversial,” notes the report. ” Scholars worry that the social network can create “echo chambers,” where users see posts only from like-minded friends and media sources.” To demonstrate these the WSJ built an interactive feature.

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Two pieces in the Guardian are especially provocative. Asks Washington writer David Smith: How did WikiLeaks go from darling of the liberal left and scourge of American imperialism to apparent tool of Donald Trump’s divisive, incendiary presidential campaign? And Sarah Smarsh takes aim at journalism’s blind spots in a piece titled, Dangerous idiots: how the liberal media elite failed working-class Americans.

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Last but not least, F&O columnist Jim McNiven recommends US election watchers catch this 1980 video of Billy Joel, You May Be Right. “BJ predicted Trump and the Trumpites years ago,” notes McNiven.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Also tagged , , , , |

His Bob-ness joins Yeats, Beckett, and Eliot

ROD MICKLEBURGH
October 15, 2016

In the winter of 1990, I waited with a handful of reporters and photographers in a grand salon of the Palais-Royal in Paris for Bob Dylan. More than 25 years ahead of the Nobel Prize people, the French had decided that Dylan’s lyrical prowess was worthy of the country’s highest cultural honour, Commandeur dans l’ Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. T.S. Eliot was one of the first to receive the award in 1960. Borges followed in 1962. And now, following in the footsteps of Sean Connery (1987), it was Bob’s turn.

Photo by Lucie McNeill

Photo by Lucie McNeill

Finally, the gilded, ceiling-high white doors opened, and there he was, ambling into the opulent room, followed by France’s flamboyant minister of culture at the time, Jack Lang. He was wearing a snazzy, tux-like black jacket over a sharp white shirt, sleek dark pants and, I couldn’t help noticing, cowboy boots. As flashbulbs went off, Dylan seemed like a deer caught in the headlights. He looked haggard, eyes half open, as if he’d just been roused from bed, without a shower and“ one more cup of coffee before I go”. We were separated only by a low velvet rope. I could have reached out and touched him.

It was almost unnerving, being so close to the figure who’d been my hero and constant companion since high school, when I put on my father’s copy of Another Side of Bob Dylan for the second time, and began listening to the lyrics. (The first time I thought what I heard was a joke…)

As Jack Lang spoke briefly about Dylan’s music and “poésie”, Bob rocked nervously side to side, glancing about, twitching. He appeared “lost in Juarez” or “old Honolulu, San Francisco, Ashtabula”, an ordeal merely to remain still. Lang then reached into his pocket for the illustrious medallion and closed in to affix it around his neck. Dylan stiffened, as the Culture Minister embraced him on both sides of his cheeks in that winning Gallic manner. Awkwardly, Dylan took out a crumpled piece of paper, and muttered: “Mille mercis.” Seemingly relieved that was over, he said in English, a bit more audibly, with his hand over his heart: “A thousand thank you’s.” For the first time, he actually smiled. Briefly. Dylan stayed another 30 seconds or so for the photographers (“Bob! Bob…!”) and poof, he was gone. The Jokerman had made his escape.

He’d been before us no more than five minutes. As is almost everything about Dylan, the entire experience was surreal. One can expect something just as strange IF he appears before the Swedish Academy to pocket the Nobel Prize for Literature on Dec. 10. There’s no guarantee he will show up at all.  The night the Prize was announced, Dylan’s “never-ending tour” played, appropriately, Las Vegas. (On Oct. 30, he’ll be in Paducah.) True to form, he said not a word to the audience about anything, least of all the astounding recognition of his life’s work. And so far, not even an official statement. Is anyone surprised? If there is one constant of Bob’s oddball, reclusive life, it’s this. He has remained, from the beginning, a contrarian. As University of Toronto literature teacher Ira Wells wrote perceptively in the Globe and Mail: “It’s hard to think of an artist who has worked harder, or more consistently over a span of decades, to alienate his own fan base.” Like a true artist, and I am one of those who consider Dylan the Shakespeare of our age, he lets his work speak for itself. And what a legacy it is.

Before you continue: to our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We continue only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

People who criticize the Nobel Prize going to “a songwriter”, miss the point. Dylan is so much more than that. His vision and lyricism over more than 50 years is out there all by itself. It goes far beyond his terrific protest songs and mind-bending rock canticles of the 1960’s. There is a reason so many books are written about Dylan by serious literary critics. For all the greatness of Bowie and Prince and Springsteen, that doesn’t happen with their music, outstanding as it is. Bob Dylan has treasured words all his life. He uses them in a way no songwriter has, before or since. (Leonard Cohen comes close, but lovely Leonard has never come close to the over-arching influence of Dylan. They are mutual admirers of each other, by the way.) Bob’s mystifying muse continues to drive him forward. The Nobel Prize is for an exceptional body of work, not for a bunch of good songs. In the words of the Academy, it went to Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. I couldn’t be happier over their decision.

A final note. While dismissed by many who just like his “old stuff”, Dylan’s output following his lost decade of the 1980’s is exceptionally rich and rewarding, containing some of his best songs. But they are no longer anthems of a generation. They don’t impact society the way Dylan did all those years ago. So they tend not be listened to all that much. And, as always, some are put off by his voice, now in heavy croak mode. But Dylan still knows how to wind it around his consistently-brilliant, deep lyrics. Plus, his veteran band fits him like a glove. Start with the under-rated Oh Mercy (1989), all the way to Modern Times, released in 2006 when Bob was 65, which I would put in the top five among all his albums. I could go on and on.

Never expect the expected from Bob. Frank Sinatra covers, anyone? As he sang more than 50 years ago:

 And if my thought dreams could be seen

They’d probably put my head in a guillotine/

But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.

A few years ago, I put together my list of Dylan’s Top 100 Songs (reduced a bit). It wasn’t easy. So many favourites didn’t even make the cut. Imagine, not just a few great songs, but more than a hundred. Anyway, here it is, with selections more  or less chronological. Enjoy and nitpick away.

Song to Woody.    He Was a Friend of Mine.    Who Killed Davey Moore?

John Brown.    Lay Down Your Weary Tune.    Blowin’ in the Wind.

Girl from the North Country.    Masters of War.    A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.    Farewell, Angelina.    Tomorrow Is a Long Time.

The Times They Are A-Changin’.    The Ballad of Hollis Brown.    When the Ship Comes In.

Boots of Spanish Leather.    With God on Our Side.    One Too Many Mornings.

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.    Chimes of Freedom.    It Ain’t Me Babe.

To Ramona.    My Back Pages.    Subterranean Homesick Blues.    She Belongs to Me.

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.    Maggie’s Farm.

Love Minus Zero/No Limit.     Mr. Tambourine Man.    It’s All Right, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Gates of Eden.    Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.    It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.

Like a Rolling Stone.    Queen Jane Approximately.    Ballad of a Thin Man.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.    Desolation Row.    Visions of Johanna.

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.    I Shall Be Released.    All Along the Watchtower.

I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine.    I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.    I Threw It All Away.

Day of the Locusts.    Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.    Forever Young.

On a Night Like This.    Simple Twist of Fate.    Shelter From the Storm.

If You See Her, Say Hello.    Tangled Up in Blue.

You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.    Hurricane.    Romance in Durango.

Black Diamond Bay.    Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat).

Gotta Serve Somebody.    Slow Train.     I Believe in You.    Every Grain of Sand.

Angelina.    Blind Willie McTell.    I and I.    Jokerman.    Licence to Kill.

When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky.    Dark Eyes.    Political World.

Everything is Broken.    Man in the Long Black Coat.    Most of the Time (bootleg version).

What Was It You Wanted?    Series of Dreams.    Tryin’ to Get to Heaven.    Highlands.

Not Dark Yet.    Cold Irons Bound.    Mississippi (first bootleg version).

High Water (for Charley Paton).    Things Have Changed.    Nettie Moore.

Workingman’s Blues #2.    The Levee’s Gonna Break.    Ain’t Talkin’.

Thunder on the Mountain. Dignity.    Red River Shore.    Huck’s Tune.

Tell Ol’ Bill.    ‘Cross the Green Mountain.    It’s All Good.    Titanic.

Copyright Rod Mickleburgh 2016

You might also wish to read these stories on F&O:

No, Bob Dylan isn’t the first lyricist to win the Nobel, by Alex Lubet

A Bengali literary giant who probably wrote even more songs preceded Dylan’s win by over a century. Rabindranath Tagore, a wildly talented Indian poet, painter and musician, took the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

Are Bob Dylan’s songs “Literature?” by David McCooey

Dylan’s Nobel Prize shows up what the Swedish Academy has so far ignored in their award system: film, popular music, and the emerging forms of digital storytelling. Perhaps what this Nobel tells us more than anything is that “literature” or “poetry” are categories of our own making. To move beyond the page seems long overdue.

~~~

Rod Mickleburgh F&ORod Mickleburgh has been a journalist for more than 40 years, with stops just about everywhere, from Penticton to Paris to Peking. Managed a few awards and nominations along the way, but highlight was co-winning Canada’s Michener Award with my highly-esteemed Globe and Mail colleague, Andre Picard, for our coverage of Canada’s tainted blood scandal. Left the Globe, my reporting home for more than 22 years, in the summer of 2013. Have my name on two books: Rare Courage, containing first person-accounts from 20 veterans of World War Two, and The Art of the Impossible, a tale of the wild and wooly 39 months of British Columbia’s first New Democratic Party government led by Dave Barrett. Co-authored with Geoff Meggs, The Art of the Impossible won the Hubert Evans Prize for non-fiction at the 2013 British Columbia Book Awards. Currently investigating time management, without regular deadlines. Visit Rod Mickleburgh’s WordPress site, Mickleblog.  His previous piece on F&O was “Feeling the Bern.” Excerpt:

The 74-year old, white-haired politician advanced to the podium, and the roof nearly came off the Hudson’s Bay High School gymnasium. No wonder. For nearly four hours, thousands of us had been standing in line, braving a cold, miserable rain, without even knowing whether we would be among the 5,000 or so lucky enough to make it inside. As the cheers continued to cascade down from the packed, rickety benches of the high school gym, Bernie Sanders leaned forward and shouted in his hoarse, Brooklynese. “All I can say is: WHOA!”

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations.  Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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No, Bob Dylan isn’t the first lyricist to win the Nobel

Portrait of Rabindranath Ttagore at Jadavpur University, by Cherishsantosh/Wikimedia

Portrait of Rabindranath Ttagore at Jadavpur University, by Cherishsantosh/Wikimedia

Alex Lubet, University of Minnesota

There’s been a great deal of excitement over Bob Dylan winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s rare for artists who have achieved widespread, mainstream popularity to win. And although Nobels often go to Americans, the last literature prize to go to one was Toni Morrison in 1993. Furthermore, according to The New York Times, “It is the first time the honor has gone to a musician.”

But as Bob Dylan might croon, “the Times they are mistaken.”

A Bengali literary giant who probably wrote even more songs preceded Dylan’s win by over a century. Rabindranath Tagore, a wildly talented Indian poet, painter and musician, took the prize in 1913.

The first musician (and first non-European) to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Tagore possessed an artistry – and lasting influence – that mirrored Dylan’s.

Before you continue: to our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We continue only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

Tagore was born in 1861 into a wealthy family and was a lifelong resident of Bengal, the East Indian state whose capital is Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Born before the invention of film, Tagore was a keen observer of India’s emergence into the modern age; much of his work was influenced by new media and other cultures.

Like Dylan, Tagore was largely self-taught. And both were associated with nonviolent social change. Tagore was a supporter of Indian independence and a friend of Mahatma Gandhi, while Dylan penned much of the soundtrack of the American civil rights movement. Each was a multitalented artist: writer, musician, visual artist and film composer. (Dylan is also a filmmaker.)

The Nobel website states that Tagore, though he wrote in many genres, was principally a poet who published more than 50 volumes of verse, as well as plays, short stories and novels. Tagore’s music isn’t mentioned until the last sentence, which says that the artist “also left … songs for which he wrote the music himself,” as if this much-loved body of work was no more than an afterthought.

But with over 2,000 songs to his name, Tagore’s output of music alone is extremely impressive. Many continue to be used in films, while three of his songs were chosen as national anthems by India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, an unparalleled achievement.

Today, Tagore’s significance as a songwriter is undisputed. A YouTube search for Tagore’s songs, using the search term “Rabindra Sangeet” (Bengali for “Tagore songs”), yields about 234,000 hits.

Although Tagore was – and remains – a musical icon in India, this aspect of his work hasn’t been recognized in the West. Perhaps for this reason, music seems not to have had much or any influence on the 1913 Nobel committee, as judged by the presentation speech by committee chair Harald Hjärne. In fact, the word “music” is never used in the prize announcement. It is notable, however, that Hjärne says the work of Tagore’s that “especially arrested the attention of the selecting critics is the 1912 poetry collection ‘Gitanjali: Song Offerings.’”

Dylan: All about the songs

It may be that the Nobel organization’s downplaying of Tagore’s significance as a musician is part and parcel of the same thinking that has long delayed Dylan’s receiving the prize: uneasiness over subsuming song into the category of literature.

It’s rumored that Dylan was first nominated in 1996. If true, it means that Nobel committees have been wrestling with the idea of honoring this extraordinary lyricist for two decades. Rolling Stone called Dylan’s win “easily the most controversial award since they gave it to the guy who wrote ‘Lord of the Flies,’ which was controversial only because it came next after the immensely popular 1982 prize for Gabriel García Márquez.”

Unlike Tagore’s Nobel announcement, in which his songs were an afterthought, the presentation announcing Dylan’s award made it clear that aside from a handful of other literary contributions this prize is all about his music. And therein lies the controversy, with some saying he shouldn’t have won – that being a pop culture icon who wrote songs disqualifies him.

But like many great literary figures, Dylan is a man of letters; his songs abound with the names of those who came before him, whether it’s Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot in “Desolation Row” or James Joyce in “I Feel a Change Comin’ On.”

Why not celebrate Bob by being like Bob and reading something unfamiliar, great and historically important? Tagore’s “Gitanjali,” his most famous collection of poems, is available in the poet’s own English translation, with an introduction by William Butler Yeats (who won his own Nobel in literature in 1923). And YouTube is a great repository for some of Tagore’s most celebrated songs (search for “Rabindra Sangeet”).

Many music lovers have long hoped that the parameters of literature might be writ a bit larger to include song. While Dylan’s win is certainly an affirmation, remembering that he’s not the first can only pave the way for more musicians to win in years to come.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Alex Lubet is the Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of Music at the University of Minnesota. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related on F&O:

Are Bob Dylan’s songs “Literature?” by David McCooey

Dylan’s Nobel Prize shows up what the Swedish Academy has so far ignored in their award system: film, popular music, and the emerging forms of digital storytelling. Perhaps what this Nobel tells us more than anything is that “literature” or “poetry” are categories of our own making. To move beyond the page seems long overdue.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , |

Are Bob Dylan’s songs “Literature?”

By David McCooey, Deakin University 
October, 2016

Bob Dylan has won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. The media has reported on this surprising choice by asking musicians, poets, and writers if Dylan’s songs are indeed “literature”. Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting (1993), made it clear on Twitter that he didn’t think they were:

If you’re a ‘music’ fan, look it up in the dictionary. Then ‘literature’. Then compare and contrast.

Bob Dylan playing Toronto, 1980. Photo by Jean-Luc Ourlin via Flickr/Wikipedia

Bob Dylan playing Toronto, 1980. Photo by Jean-Luc Ourlin via Flickr/Wikipedia

So are song lyrics a type of literature or, more specifically, poetry? The English poet Glyn Maxwell thinks not. In On Poetry (2011), he writes that “Songs are strung upon sounds, poems upon silence”. Inhabiting silence makes poetry the harder and more important art form. Music, Maxwell writes, makes lyrics seem better than when they appear on the whiteness of the page.

But many don’t share Maxwell’s position. The critic Christopher Ricks has long championed Dylan’s song lyrics as poetry. In Dylan’s Vision of Sin (2004), he places Dylan’s songs in a poetic tradition that includes Tennyson and Donne.

Both Maxwell and Ricks, however, ignore an ancient link between poetry and music. Ancient Greek poetry, such as the epics of Homer or the lyric poems of Sappho, were accompanied by a stringed musical instrument called the lyre. It is from the lyre that we get the words “lyric” and “lyrics”.

Before you continue: to our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We continue only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Swedish Academy drew attention to this ancient link between poetry and music when announcing its decision. The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, pointed out that Homer and Sappho were “meant to be performed, often together with [musical] instruments”.

There are more recent examples, of course. English lute songs of the 16th century set poetry to music. In the 19th century, Schubert and other composers wrote lieder (German “art songs”), which also set poetry to music.

But how accurate is it to compare Dylan with Sappho and composers of art song? Dylan belongs to the tradition of blues, country, and Tin Pan Alley (the commercial American songwriters of the first half of the 20th century). He was central in the rise of “Americana”, a mix of folk and popular American musical forms that have little to do with “elite” musical forms such as opera and lieder.

Dylan has avoided taking on the mantle of “poet”. He once described himself as a “song ’n’ dance man”. Nevertheless, he famously took the name of a Welsh poet (Dylan Thomas) for his pseudonym. (Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman.) In addition, his songs, as Ricks and others have pointed out, take in numerous literary references, as seen in his many often-playful allusions to the Bible. And while his breakthrough in the early 1960s was as a “folk” singer, Dylan quickly became famous for the complexity and “poetic” quality of his lyrics.

So, do Dylan’s lyrics survive as poetry in the “silence” of the page? You can find out for yourself by reading the 960 pages of Dylan’s The Lyrics: 1961-2012 (2014). And you can compare his work with those of other song writers – such as Lou Reed, PJ Harvey, and Paul McCartney – whose lyrics have been published in book form.

Certainly, many people would argue that the lyrics of Dylan’s classic songs from the 1960s do survive as poetry. The strange, surreal, and often funny lyrics from Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and Blonde on Blonde (1966) arguably represent his peak as a lyricist.

Visions of Johanna, from Blonde on Blonde, is a good example of the “literary” Dylan.

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

Visions of Johanna contains some of Dylan’s most celebrated lyrics, and you can see why. It clearly works on the page.

But should we make the printed page the standard of what counts as “literature”? Bob Dylan’s songs are multimedia things. Lyrics are to songs what scripts are to plays or films. We can read scripts for enjoyment, and to better understand the productions they come from. But to pretend that the play or film is somehow secondary is clearly a mistake. Equally, we can’t ignore the music and performances that accompany Dylan’s song lyrics.

Dylan’s Nobel Prize shows up what the Swedish Academy has so far ignored in their award system: film, popular music, and the emerging forms of digital storytelling.

Perhaps what this Nobel tells us more than anything is that “literature” or “poetry” are categories of our own making. To move beyond the page seems long overdue.

The ConversationCreative Commons

David McCooey is a Professor of Writing and Literature at Deakin University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related on F&O:

No, Bob Dylan isn’t the first lyricist to win the Nobel, by Alex Lubet

A Bengali literary giant who probably wrote even more songs preceded Dylan’s win by over a century. Rabindranath Tagore, a wildly talented Indian poet, painter and musician, took the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

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Battling the Brit Invasion: the fight for American pop independence

By John Covach, University of Rochester 
July, 2015

The Byrds in 1965. Sony Music Entertainment

The Byrds in 1965. Sony Music Entertainment

Fifty years ago, in the first half of 1965, the British invasion was officially under way – at least, in music.

It seemed like all the biggest hits on the American pop charts came from British bands. Ever since The Beatles’ pivotal first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964, the American shores had been flooded by a steady stream of English bands with matching suits, moptop haircuts, endearing accents and catchy tunes.

The UK acts didn’t completely eclipse the Americans during the height of the moptop mania. The Supremes, for instance, had hit the top of the US charts with five consecutive singles by the summer of 1965, and the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ topped the charts in early 1965.

The British success was significant enough, however, to force the American music business to recalibrate. By the summer of 1965, an American pop music revolution was underway.

This rebuttal to the British invasion was headlined by The Byrds’ hit single, Mr Tambourine Man. Recorded in Hollywood in January 1965, the story of this song, its influences and its wild success, is the story of America’s return salvo in a transatlantic fight for pop domination.

Mr Tambourine Man came to the Byrds via their manager, Jim Dickson, who was also active in music publishing.

In 1964, Bob Dylan was mostly known as a songwriter, and Dickson was able to obtain an unreleased recording of Dylan performing his song. Recorded during a June 1964 session for the album Another Side of Bob Dylan, Dylan was dissatisfied with this version and it was nixed (another version would appear on his next album). Dylan also performed Mr Tambourine Man at the Newport Folk Festival that summer.

Dickson was a believer in Dylan’s music, and was convinced that this was just the song his fledgling group needed.

The Byrds (then going by the name Jet Set) began working on Mr Tambourine Man in the fall of 1964, though the band was a bit more skeptical of the song. The first arrangement featured harmony vocals, percussion and acoustic guitars, very much in a folk style.

Missing was the band’s trademark jingle-jangle of the Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitar, which would not become a part of their sonic signature until members Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark and probably Chris Hillman watched A Hard Day’s Night, in which George Harrison plays the Ric 12 string throughout the film. (McGuinn claims to have been so inspired by the sound that he immediately traded a couple of instruments to get his own Rickenbacker.)

The trademark opening guitar lick of Mr Tambourine Man was crafted by Roger McGuinn, who had significant experience as an arranger; in the past, he’d worked for artists such as the Limelighters, the Chad Mitchell Trio and Bobby Darin, while arranging for Judy Collins.

McGuinn had been playing an adaptation of J S Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring on the acoustic 12-string during live shows. He based the distinctive opening lick for Mr Tambourine Man on his Bach arrangement. When he played that lick on the electric 12-string, the classic jingle jangle of folk rock was born. (Bach’s Jesu melody makes another appearance in She Don’t Care About Time from the band’s second album.)

The Byrds were signed to Columbia Records in November 1964, in part on the recommendation of jazz musician Miles Davis. The label, however, didn’t believe in the young musicians’ ability to deliver a suitably professional recording in the required studio time.

So the producers turned to the best studio musicians in Los Angeles, a group of skilled players popularly known as the Wrecking Crew. (At the time, it was common practice for groups to use studio musicians on their recordings.) In fact, McGuinn is the only member of The Byrds to play on Mr Tambourine Man, though he, Crosby and Clark perform all the vocals.’

The members of the Wrecking Crew had played on many of the girl-group hits that came out of Los Angeles in the 1960s. These musicians also played on Beach Boys sessions and, according to Roger McGuinn, some of the players on the Mr Tambourine Man session had played on the Beach Boys’ Don’t Worry Baby.

Whether or not this is accurate (the union contracts suggest Wrecking Crew member Bill Pitman played on both sessions), it’s at least apparent that the studio players at the Byrds session were asked to re-create the groove of that Beach Boys single.

They succeeded: if you listen to the two records back to back, the similarity in feel is unmistakable, especially in the respective rhythm guitar parts.

Mr Tambourine Man marked the beginning of the American folk-rock response to the British invasion. Columbia delayed the single’s release to avoid competition with the label’s other records, so Mr Tambourine Man appeared in the spring of 1965, entering the Billboard Top 40 on June 5.

By the end of the month it was in the number one slot, where it remained over the Fourth of July weekend. The Byrds’ single displaced The Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself at the top of the charts, so its success was not a direct victory over the British groups. The Byrds’ platter, however, was then ousted from the top slot by the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, as the competition for chart supremacy with the Brits began heating up.

In pop music, turnabout is fair play: by mid-June, Mr Tambourine Man entered the UK charts, rising to number one by mid-July, supplanting the Hollies’ I’m Alive.

To recap: the Byrds set a Dylan song to a Beach Boys beat using a Beatles guitar to play a Bach-influenced lick, while recording with a studio band that was accustomed to playing girl-group hits (phew!).

The resulting music – a stylistic melting pot – launched a spirited defense of the American charts that would soon be joined by Dylan himself, along with Sonny and Cher, the Loving Spoonful, the Turtles, The Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel and Barry McGuire.

Folk rock wasn’t the only American style that topped the charts in the mid 1960s: Motown continued its successful run, and southern soul – highlighted by Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett – joined the fray.

Meanwhile, the Beach Boys’ surf music became increasingly ambitious and influential, and Paul Revere and the Raiders led a harder-edged musical assault on the British invasion, scoring a series of hit singles while appearing on ABC’s weekday TV program Where the Action Is wearing Revolutionary War outfits, tricorner hats and all.

But when the Fourth of July fireworks erupted in the summer of 1965, the meteoric musical ascent of Mr Tambourine Man was the first clear sign that American groups were back in the game – and on the charts – for good.

The ConversationCreative Commons

John Covach is Director, Institute for Popular Music at University of Rochester. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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