Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize
I became aware of Bob Dylan with the release of his first album in 1962. I didn’t buy it then, but my best friend’s older brother had a copy, and one rainy afternoon after we ditched seventh-grade woodshop, we gave it a spin on the old turntable. We laughed and wondered how anyone could possibly enjoy this stuff. The album contained mostly traditional folk songs (it introduced the standard, “House Of The Rising Sun,” to the public, for example), and we quickly concluded he wasn’t much of guitarist, less of a harmonica player, and even less of a singer. We decided he had no future in the music business at all. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Yeah, we figured Dylan had captured that old, hillbilly, Woody Guthrie sound, and we didn’t find that very interesting.
But Dylan just kept coming at us. His second album, 1963’s “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” revealed his power as a songwriter with “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Masters Of War,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and others. We picked up our ears, and he opened our minds.
Then in 1964, the year of the Beatles, he offered his third album that included “The Times They Are A-Changin,’’ “With God On Our Side,” and “Only A Pawn In Their Game,” and suddenly critics started calling him the voice of a new generation — you know, the counterculture and every movement one could imagine — civil rights, antiwar, etc. But Dylan didn’t want any part of that. Instead, he said his ambition was to stay young as long as he could, and he’d try to keep the hair on top of his head.
“Another Side Of Bob Dylan” came out that year, too, with “All I Really Want To Do,” “Chimes of Freedom,” “My Back Pages,” and “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” material the Byrds would use to launch the LA folk-rock scene behind the chime of Roger McGuinn’s jangly Rickenbacker 12-string, although Dylan said those ground-breaking arrangements never did much for him.
Then Dylan followed the Beatles lead and went partly electric with 1965’s “Bringing It All Back Home,” a revolution he mostly completed later that year with “Highway 61 Revisited” and the monster hit, “Like A Rolling Stone,” and his famous electric appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. In the midst of his folk success, Dylan cast it all aside to become a rock star, and some will never forgive him. The voice of a generation, they said, had sold out.
To many, his 1966 offering, “Blonde On Blonde,” with “Rainy Day Women,” “I Want You,” and “Just Like A Woman” marks the high point of his career.
But Dylan didn’t stop there. He went country with “Nashville Skyline,” wrote Christian music with “Slow Train Coming” and “Saved.” And who could forget “Blood on the Tracks” or “Desire” or his MTV “Unplugged.” Why, he even made a Christmas album.
At 75 he continues to write, record and tour, and he even won a Grammy for “The Basement Tapes Complete” this year.
My personal favorite Bob Dylan moment is the video with the cue cards for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
Like him or hate him, Dylan has probably influenced every songwriter since his arrival on the scene, and as long as people play music, his songs will be on the set list. But Dylan’s greatest contribution was to show how pop music could be bigger and better than just puppy love, how it could tackle difficult and controversial subjects such as war and civil rights, how pop music could actually influence and maybe even change the world.
For his sonic contributions to the soundtrack of our lives and his undying influence on other artists; for his surrealistic approach to lyric writing in which the whole universe is charged with some new, undiscovered meaning or some unseen and totally unexpected perspective with each passing line after passing line; how the planes of reality in his songs collide, shatter and reform in unimaginable ways, Dylan clearly deserves this award. He absolutely is one of the greatest and most influential poets of our time.
Congrats, Bobby. And thanks.