I've already heard the denunciations from "real" writers saying that a songwriter shouldn't win the Nobel, that Dylan's selection insults the novelists, poets, playwrights, essayists, etc. who ply their literary trade while Dylan croons his tunes. I think these critics are wrong, narrow-minded, and ungenerous on several levels.
Dylan is a storyteller, just as so many "real" writers are. You're a storyteller too, so is your neighbor, your minister, your manager, the local baker and candle stick maker. Dylan is a great storyteller, perhaps (along with John Lennon) the greatest musical storyteller who has ever lived. Dylan does what precisely every great storyteller does -- he connects with us emotionally, allowing us to better understand his own experiences are ours too.
The music of Bob Dylan, and the stories of Bob Dylan, have connected deeply with me. Whenever I'm feeling disconnected or lost, whenever I'm feeling blue or off-balance, I listen to Dylan's album "Blonde on Blonde." All the great stories are there, told so grippingly that they bring me to a state of catharsis. Through Dylan's exploration of his own complicated emotions, I always come to a better understanding of my own. This is what all art is about: human connection.
Dylan is famously cryptic in his music and his life. He's an innovator who goes his own way ("you go your way, and I'll go mine," says one of his songs), follows his own creative inclinations. He's perennially restless and moving, easily bored and seeking new ways of self-expression. As a creative person, Dylan is a model for us all in how to keep evolving.
Dylan could be an arrogant jerk in his songs, as in "Positively Fourth Street," the most ungracious break-up song ever written. He could also be as emotionally vulnerable as a freshly-opened wounds, as in "You're a Big Girl Now," about the day his first wife called him on the phone and ended their marriage. Dylan's song calls the moment "a corkscrew to my heart," and he finds himself begging and pleading, admitting his own failings and promising to make things better. None of it matters or works. He's lost in this song, and he lays his heart bare. "You're a Big Girl Now" is a masterpiece from a mature, fearless artist. That song alone is worth every silly award offered to any artist.
Nobody writes a song like Dylan. He can be linear, like his hero Woody Guthrie, or he can be provocatively indirect, like the surrealist poets he often read in his 20s and 30s: Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Ginsberg. Go and listen to a Dylan song like "Tangled Up in Blue," and you'll see what I mean. It's both linear and cryptic, following a timeline but free enough to jump ahead twenty years or backwards a century. Dylan doesn't always tell us exactly what happened, he's a classic unreliable narrator, as when he says of his beloved, "I helped her out of a jam, I guess, but I used a little too much force." He tells us he dumped his car off a dock and headed out west, escaping to the open road, and he tells us about the beauty of the United States, working as a cook in a lumber camp in the Northwest, on a fishing boat in Louisiana, moving around from place to place.
I always wonder why he fled, and we'll never know the answer to this catalyzing mystery. It's what makes the song so epic, as deeply satisfying as any great novel. Dylan leaves things unresolved, and is comfortable leaving us with more questions. This is the sign of an artist.
Bob Dylan, along with George Orwell, has consistently inspired my own sense of creativity. Both share a deep sense of artistic and personal principle, a proud willingness to pursue their own artistic vision no matter what popular tastes demand. They speak their truths in an authentic and compassionate voice, and that's all that matters for any artist. Certainly awards don't matter to someone like Dylan, but it speaks well of the Nobel Academy.
So congratulations to Bob Dylan for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, and thanks for all the great stories you've given us. Any thoughts on Dylan's Nobel Prize, dear reader? Share 'em if you've got 'em.