Happy 80th Birthday
OMG! The times really are a changin. I can remember listening to the songs of Bob Dylan while driving in my 1962 Ford Galaxy convertible with the top down, across the Bahia Honda bridge – the original bridge. Something about his music always gave me peace. Its difficult to believe the great Bob Dylan just turned 80 years old. What a career! What an amazing human being!
In 2016 Bob Dylan was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. The same Nobel Prize awarded to Ernest Hemingway and many other literary giants. New York Times music critic Jon Pareles wrote “What took them so long?” Robert Allen Zimmerman, or Bob Dylan as we know him, didn’t just release a new work or coin another Dylanesque phrase like “The times they are a changin.”
He wasn’t just discovered. He was already awarded several Grammys, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Pulitzer, a Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Adding a Nobel seems an appropriate validation of a lifetime’s work by a literary giant. The genius of Dylan has been appreciated by the 125 million that bought his records, and millions more that have listened and been affected by his songs. Everyone has favorite Dylan songs and lyrics like “..how does it feel? – To be on your own, with no direction home”.
Some have difficulty with the idea of music as literature but it makes perfect sense. The same goals of literature are accomplished in lyric, song, and melody. They combine to tell us stories or teach. Music, much like literature, is a communication between the performer and the audience, and when the communication is strong, a very profound bond is complete. Dylan’s words resonate, they inspire or instill. He’s quoted by all, heroes and villains alike.
His lyrics from the “Times They Are A-Changin” speaks to his literature with verse.
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
Songwriting is literature. The work of writing lyrics to melody is complex and can be extremely laborious. The great musician Richard Crooks worked in the studio with Bob Dylan producing the “Blood on the Tracks” album. He would tell stories of how recording Dylan’s songs would be extremely complex and time consuming studio work. How strange and odd Dylan would approach a recording session. Only after hours of recording, the pieces of the puzzle would take form, and Bob Dylan the artist and his ideas and his literature would become perfectly clear in melody and verse.
Dylan has been writing songs since early 1960s. We would listen closely to those words which were sometimes made difficult by Dylan’s voice. In 1963, he sang with Joan Baez at Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. Dylan wrote folk music with political themes about the civil rights struggles, the Vietnam War, and the pain during the tumultuous 60s.
In 1968 10,000 nineteen year olds were being drafted every month, quickly trained, and sent to Vietnam. Over 16,000 would die that year, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King would be assassinated, thousands marched in the streets, hearing a Dylan song on an AM radio, while cruising around was like having a short moment of something special – a fortunate stroke of luck.
His songs were full of special meanings and youthful idealism. They were sometimes an important story wrapped in melody; other times a protest ballad against an injustice, like his song “The Hurricane” about middle-weight contender, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, falsely imprisoned for a triple homicide. One particular verse “How can the life of such a man – Be in the palm of some fool’s hand.” Hurricane Carter was unjustly imprisoned for 20 years. Another of my favorites, “Like A Rolling Stone”, was written about a debutante who has fallen out of vogue with the New York art scene.
Music as literature has profound cultural impacts. Some songs have lasted for a thousand years. How many times have you had a song stuck in your head for days? How many times while writing a letter or a thought has a song come to mind? How often during a conversation has someone said something that reminded you of a song? How often does a song remind us of a special person or special moment? The answer of course “is blowin’ in the wind.”