Bob Dylan may be one of the most revered and celebrated musicians of the century with hits that span the classic rock and folk music genres. While Dylan has been honored many times, never before has the singer received an award celebrating his song lyrics as literature. As he receives the Nobel Prize in literature, Bob reflects on his career and ponders whether song lyrics can, or should be, considered literature in the strictest sense. It’s certainly a question millions of Bob’s fans are debating today, just as Mr. Dylan shares in his own acceptance speech.
Nobel Prize Winner Bob Dylan Reveals How Buddy Holly Shaped His Future
While the crowd gathered to honor Dylan for his Nobel Prize achievement may find it surprising, The New York Times reported that Bob was launched on his musical career through a chance encounter with Buddy Holly. Bob shared that he was an early fan of Holly, particularly for the way Buddy combined the best sounds of country, rock, and rhythm and blues to create a unique and memorable sound. Those songs and the artist behind them inspired Mr. Dylan, perhaps more than Buddy ever really realized.
“He looked me right straight dead in the eye and he transmitted something,” recalled Bob. “Something I didn’t know what. And it gave me the chills.”
Dylan fans will nod in agreement, as the celebrated artist also acknowledges the entire folk music genre for further inspiring him on his road to becoming a classic rock icon.
Getting back to the question at hand -can song lyrics be considered literature? Mr. Dylan recalls the books of grade school, assigned reading that spoke to his own soul, and suggests that they were just as instrumental in forming his song writing talents as any music. Bob cited Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey in particular.
Mr. Dylan says the themes found in each of those novels are seen throughout his own discography and one needs only to give the lyrics of his classic hits more than a peripheral glance to spot those references.
Bob Dylan Searches For A Connection
On accepting his Nobel Prize for Literature, Bob delivered a thoughtful and retrospective 26-minute speech and, as NPR reported, much of his commentary dwelled on the topic at hand. Dylan says receiving the Nobel Prize for his song lyrics gave him a new topic in music philosophy to consider, compelling him to consider how his songs, both music and lyrics, might translate as classic literature.
Reflecting on that theme, Dylan sought for a connection and he found it, but, as he said in his speech, Bob found greater difficulty in articulating it to his audience than he had at arriving at the answer in the first place. Mr. Dylan warned that his answer would be arrived at through an intertwining and, at times, confounding, explanation.
Following his nostalgia about meeting Buddy Holly and finding inspiration from literature as well as from previous music artists, Dylan finally acknowledged that music, and his own lyrics, are as different from literary successes as apples are different from oranges.
To begin, Bob says one doesn’t have to understand a deeper meaning to any song’s lyrics for one to be moved by the piece. He adds that he’s explored countless themes in his songs, while admitting that even he finds little meaning to them.
“Songs are unlike literature,” Bob Dylan defiantly declares. “They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words of Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage, just as the lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get to listen to some of these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert, or on record, or however people are listening to songs these days.”
In closing, the classic rock musician chooses a bit of irony in quoting from a literary great, Homer.
“Sing in me, oh muse / And through me, tell the story.”
[Featured Image by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]