October 27, 2016
It may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord, but someone finally told Bob Dylan that he won the Nobel (or did they?)
by Liam O’Brien
Whew!(?) For brief moment, it appeared that the results of the most important contest in the land would finally be recognized as legitimate. I’m referring, of course, to the news that Bob Dylan had at last acknowledged that he won the Nobel goddamn Prize, bringing relief to all people trembling at the possibility of Minnesota’s OG curmudgeon and weirdo giving the Nobel committee the cold shoulder. Hannah Ellis-Peterson reported at the Guardian:
In a subtle update on Dylan’s website, a page promoting a new book of his lyrics now includes the declaration “winner of the Nobel prize in literature”.
It is the first time the elusive singer has made any acknowledgement of the prize. Sara Danius, the Nobel academy’s permanent secretary, said on Monday that numerous attempts had been made to contact Dylan, including emails and calls to those closest to him, but had heard nothing back from the man himself.
Dylan, 75, played a gig in Las Vegas on the night the accolade was announced, but made no mention that he had been given the prize, which comes with 8m kronor (£740,000) prize money, or if he intended to turn it down.
At least, that was, until the website was re-updated with the Nobel reference removed, casting the future of Americo-Swedenian relations into doubt once more.
So as BobDylanRefusesToAcknowledgeHisWinningOfTheNobelPrizeIn2016-gate continues to inch toward an anticlimax (remember, he hasn’t even secured his winnings), we can get back to the important business. Which is to say, serving up those red-hot dueling takes on whether Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in 2016 is good or meh.
However, we will not be serving up either flavor of take today. Rather, we, much like Bob Dylan, will also be focusing on where we go from here.
There’s been some talk that awarding the prize to Dylan, whose artistic output leans far more heavily on recorded music and excruciatingly discursive radio airtime than on the printed word, is a thumb in the eye of the book business. Whereas the usual affair of awarding the prize to a relatively unknown writer of books means that those books get reprinted, emblazoned with fancy new copy, and sold hand over fist, most people already know Bob Dylan and won’t be buying his books (or records) with equivalent enthusiasm.
But do you really know Bob Dylan? After all, a Nobel is given for a body of work, rather than its bright spots. Yes, you have enjoyed the loopy abrasiveness of Blonde On Blonde, the dorm-room heartbreak seminar of Blood On The Tracks, the other innumberable covers and homages, and the massive shadow of his influence that informed the last fifty years of music and poetry. But the Nobel isn’t just being awarded for these. It’s being awarded for the whole megillah, and that includes the really bad albums.
Of course, any blowhard of sufficient measure will be happy to tell you what constitutes “a good Bob Dylan album,” but the prevailing critical hypothesis is that the Dylan’s recorded output between 1975’s Desire and 1997’s Time Out Of Mind represents, at best, a time of willful experimentation, and, at worst, the systematic disintegration of the previous decade’s earned surplus of audience goodwill.
And to this, and those who abide by this or similar theories, I say: hold on! Because I have gathered an album’s worth of songs from this period and left them here for your perusal. I think they’re pretty good, but more importantly, whether or not you consider yourself a Dylan fan, I exhort you do the following: Approach the work of the latest Nobel laureate with a new level of critical enthusiasm, however that may look to you. We’re living in a post-Bob-Dylan-won-the-Nobel-Prize-in-2016 world. Act accordingly.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.