My Work Elsewhere: Why Dylan Getting The Nobel Prize Is An Important Event In English Literature

God knows how much I love Bob Dylan. His songs are so many on my playlist that sometimes, it becomes embarrassing when someone else is in charge of my smartphone. Songs, that he wrote in different phases of his life, have helped me come through different phases of mine.

To be honest, my taste and knowledge in English music begins with Bob Dylan, travels through Joni Michelle and ends at Don McLean. Dylan has been the most dominant force, because I always thought that he was always a better songwriter than a singer. His songs have never been ‘songs’. They were poems, orated with instruments, that were tied to his arms, legs and head and the audience would be enthralled by the depth of those simple words more than the harmonica or the electric guitar. ‘Blowing’ and ‘wind’ were inconsequential words separately, but when he sang them together, “Blowin in the wind” became the quintessential debate of the century.

As poet Billy Collins commented after Dylan’s selection: “Most song lyrics don’t really hold up without music, and they are not supposed to. Bob Dylan is in the 2 percent club of songwriters whose lyrics are interesting on page even without the harmonica and the guitar and his very distinctive voice. I think he does qualify as poetry.”

More than Homer, Dylan’s case reminds me of Aesop. Thousands of Aesop’s fables are still prevalent in different forms, versions, languages, in all parts of the world. From ‘thirsty crow’ to ‘the boy who cried wolf’, Aesop’s simplistic lessons about life are timeless classics and have been included in every moral education curriculum of every country for young children. Even more so, most of his works have been modernised, altered and claimed by many anonymous story tellers and it is a common occurrence to find his work being sold in the market as Russian, Indian or Egyptian folktales.

Amusing as it sounds, Aesop, much like Dylan, was a story teller and not a ‘writer’, who went from village to village, told his stories to masses, in oral form.

In the last 50 years, I don’t remember a writer or a poet who has been so polarising and reachable to such a huge chunk of the world population.

I think, this separates Dylan from other musicians and dare I say, writers. His words have a far bigger appeal than any of the music that he has created. He has been poetic, prophetic even, when it came to saying things blatantly about wrongs and rights of societies. His intrepidity as a lyricist, inadvertently makes him a writer of highest class. And even more so, because, his words have made bigger impact on lives of millions of different ages, across the globe.

I wonder if any other musician, writer or poet has challenged his own limits and the limits of the society as much as Dylan did in different times of his life. At 75, his selection for the highest honour, pushes many more envelopes.

The amount of great work that likes of Murakami, Peter Cary, Hillary Mantel or Salman Rushdie have produced over the years is definitely commendable and awe-worthy but perhaps, here, the nomination of Dylan, a ‘mere song wright’ for the most auspicious and prestigious literary award marks a new turn of events. Perhaps, the committee wanted to broaden the definition of literature itself, and what better way than to seek the “Tambourine Man” himself?

It was meant to stir a controversy. But controversies are the catalysts for revolutions. And, revolutions bring changing times.

(Published at Youth Ki Awaaz, November 2, 2016)

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