····Halloween—some pumpkins rotting as they
So, Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for literature is, for me, a complete and utterly surreal event. To make an analogy, it’s like walking into a roomful of 60’s babyboom stoners waxing rhapsodic over the curvilinear genius of a spoon. It doesn’t seem to occur to them, as they move from the spoon to the butter knife, that maybe it’s not the silverware, but the marijuana that’s extraordinary. And Dylan’s music, what little I’ve heard (and judging by his fans), is marijuana at its finest.
I’ve never listened, from beginning to end, to a single song by Bob Dylan. And if I’ve heard other Dylan songs, the only one I vaguely recall has something to do with a Chevy and a levy. But wait, that’s not Dylan. Catchy tune though.
Here’s the thing: I regularly cycle through Monteverdi’s Madrigals and the Bach Cantatas. The interesting thing about the Cantatas is just how god-awful many (if not most) of the “lyrics” are (they called them librettos in those days). Fortunately, my German is far enough removed that all I hear is the music. Being curious though, I look up the lyrics from time to time and am floored by how Bach could turn the most banal poetry into musical masterpieces. Music, like marijuana, can do that. Does anyone even give half a rat’s butt about Dylan’s prose poetry?
The various writers and editors at The Guardian have all but turned into gushing and starry-eyed fanboys & fangirls. They giddily praise the Nobel Prize committee’s citation as ‘admirably delicate’ (literary dilettantes who each year choose their jock of the week with the cliquish discretion of cheerleaders) . The euphuistic prose is thick enough to cut with a chainsaw. Richard Williams (linked above) writes: “Essentially, in the work of Bob Dylan, the words and the music cannot be separated.” Exactly.
If Bob Dylan can win the Nobel Prize for literature then I think @StephenKing should get elected to the Rock N’ Roll hall of fame.
— Jason Pinter (@jasonpinter) October 13, 2016
And besides that, yes they can be, and are—by yours truly; but am I the only one? When I read Dylan’s lyrics all I see are the words on a page—and none of the music. And what I see reads like a watered down Bukowski with a few effete rhymes—the poetry of an ambitious but mawkish high school sophomore:
“Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.”
The lyric stripped of music is an emperor stripped of clothes. As far as literature goes, they’re mediocre and amateurish. Which is to say, by the standards of the last 100 years, they really do deserve to be ranked with contemporary poems.
The lyric above is excerpted from another guardian post in which the author, or “we” (presumably all the Guardian fanboys and fangirls), present “Bob Dylan’s greatest lyrics” with no comment (as if their greatness were self-evidently obvious). For example:
I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you.
All I can say is that you have to be stoned out of your gourd to think this is great literature. I’ve read better stuff from teary-eyed 13 year olds. But there’s also the New York Times. The narrator of a video at the Times, Jon Pareles, reverently states at the outset that “we’ve known for half a century that Bob Dylan was a great writer”. Who this “we” is, he doesn’t say. And no, “we” have not known this for half a century. We have known that he was a great pop star. If it weren’t for his music, as the Guardian unwittingly asserted, everyone would be asking the same question: Who the hell is Bob Dylan? What about that collection of prose poetry Mr. Pareles? I notice he didn’t mention that. But still climbing Mount Hyperbole, Pareles goes on: “He can sling words together and make them explode in your mind.” Pareles’s example? “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”. And its this, apparently, that merits a Nobel Prize. Pareles, who apparently doesn’t know Jack about literature, closes the video with the embarrassingly facile assertion that “he got the prize because he’s a wordslinger.” Just think, sling words and you too will win a Nobel Prize.
I totally get the Nobel committee. Reading books is hard.
— Gary Shteyngart (@Shteyngart) October 13, 2016
Vermont’s poet laureate, Chard DeNiord, recently asked: “So what to make of the marginal status of poetry in America, where so many crave poetry for its essential, memorable expression[?]”. The answer? It only takes Dylan’s music. Put your mawkish and mediocre verse to Dylan’s music and you too will win the Nobel Prize for literature.
If nothing else, Dylan’s Nobel Prize is a beacon of hope to an entire generation (or two) of mediocre poets.