Dylan's Nobel prize settles debate: Rock lyrics are poetry
The boomer bard with a guitar who sent out a clarion call that the words pop singers sang were worthy of being taken seriously was awarded the highest honor for a writer.
Bob Dylan is the songwriter who opened up the doors of possibility to all who followed. He was the mysterious bard with a guitar who sent out a clarion call - first as the acoustic Voice of His Generation, then as the plugged-in rocker who remained a master of the unexpected for five decades - that the words pop singers sang were worthy of being taken seriously.
"Dylan was a revolutionary," Bruce Springsteen said in his 1988 speech inducting Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "The way that Elvis freed your body, Bob freed your mind." Early masterpieces such as "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Visions Of Johanna" and "Like A Rolling Stone" fueled a debate: Are rock lyrics poetry?
The answer must be yes, because on Thursday, Dylan was awarded the highest honor for a writer: the Nobel Prize in literature. The Swedish Academy, in making him the first American winner since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993, cited him for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."
On one end of Dylan's songwriting spectrum is the vengeful, resolute, and timeless "Masters Of War," which he sang last weekend in his slot opening for the Rolling Stones at the Desert Trip festival-otherwise known as "Oldchella" - in Indio, Calif. It's high dudgeon at its finest: "Let me ask you one question: Is your money that good? / Will it buy you forgiveness? Do you think that it could? / I think you will find when your death takes its toll / All the money you made will never buy back your soul."
On the other end are Dylan's love songs, some of them also vengeful, such as "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" (from 1963's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan) or "Idiot Wind" (from 1975's brilliant Blood On The Tracks), or morose, like "Love Sick," from the 1997's late career tour de force Time Out Of Mind.