Monday, October 17, 2016

notes on the response to the dylan nobel

all the naysayers to the dylan nobel win being to three categories:
category 1- rock lyrics are not poetry. this is snobbery i think- like literature is somehow a classical form- belonging to a particular kind of written word, produced by certain kinds of people. the elitism inherent in this is self evident. it presumes the power of words as only in those that are read - not heard. poets and troubadours have no place in these halls. 
the other grouse i have heard is dylan’s relinquishing of the ‘political’ as defined by a narrow leftist agenda. i for now don’t think he ever did turn his back on the political. his politics just became more personal- a politics of freedom. a freedom for him (and us) to choose who we want to be. his form of ‘protest’ was a denial of any kind of forced conscription into an ideology. he chose to drift wherever he wanted to- including that embarrassing (for us) foray into religion in the 70’s. if he is ‘not there’ it is precisely because of that unpredictability of choices in search for his truth, and being completely honest to himself about his own failures and stupidities. wasn’t it reyner banham who said that ‘if you want to show you have a mind, you have to change it’? 
besides which it is only a very casual dylan listener who will say that he turns his back on political ‘issues’ in his later years, or to that he sang only protest songs in his early years. class, racism, gender, love, longing, jealousy, fear, madness, sex, death all exist in his songs throughout his career, admittedly with varying emphasis throughout.
then there is the ‘he can’t sing’ argument. this only holds water if you think singing is about prettiness no matter what you are trying to convey through song. i have heard the joan baez, peter paul and mary or byrds versions of dylan songs and find all extraordinarily unaffecting. all the bite is removed, the humour tamed. the only dylan cover that might improve on the original is jimi hendrix’s ‘all along the watchtower’, and that too because hendrix makes it a completely different song.
besides all of this, why does everyone care so much about the nobel. like an oscar or a grammy, it does not mean anything really- just take a look at the list of peace prize winners for proof. like leonard cohen said- giving dylan a nobel is like giving mt everest a medal for being the tallest mountain.

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