Some would disagree with the fact that Bob Dylan, one of the greatest musical icons of the modern era, was more than worthy of receiving the recent award for the Nobel Prize in Literature. However, what has in fact been deemed a ‘controversial decision’ has sparked outrage throughout the internet. Many have argued that “Bob Dylan is a musician, not a poet” and “Mr. Dylan’s writing is inseparable from his music”; suggesting that as a musician, lyrical poetry is in a completely different category disconnected from the literary world.
But what is ‘literature’ anyway? Surely any piece of writing with a lasting, artistic influence can be considered literature? If the Modernist movement of the 1920s was able to manipulate and transform the meaning of poetry by simply shaping the rules according to what they saw fit, then evidently ‘literature’ has not got as rigid a barrier as these people arguing against Dylan seem to believe.
Lyrical music is poetry. Period. But like poetry, there are good and bad lyricists. Bob Dylan just happens to be one of the few thousands of great lyricists of our time. Unlike written literature, music is able to reach a much larger and broader spectrum of people due to its availability; meaning that, all in all, Dylan’s work could be argued as being much more influential than that of a lesser-known author or poet. The lyrics to a song, just like the words to a political speech, can hold the power of manipulating the mind of the listener. Songs such as ‘Masters of War’ or ‘Hurricane’, which contain thought-provoking and political criticisms in protest to the threat of nuclear warfare, racism and civil rights, opened the minds of many, especially the younger generation, and allowed them to expand and look at life in a different way. Pete Seeger described Dylan as “the most prolific songwriter on the scene”. Dylan wasn’t just a poet, he was a revolutionary.
However, there were arguably hundreds of other well-known songwriters writing lyrics just as influential as Dylan’s, and could have deserved the Nobel Prize just as much. Bands and singers such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Tina Turner, Nina Simone and Tupac, all raised political and social problems within their music, creating a new form of rebellion. Even the musicians of today such as Akala, Frank Ocean, Gorillaz, Massive Attack and Radiohead are just as influential writers. How can one listen to the lyrics of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ or ‘Kids With Guns’ and not say they are just as valid as poetic literature in its original form?
With songwriters, there is an potential to be incredibly influential, therefore it was no wonder those of a higher political status were terrified of pop culture. In my opinion, Bob Dylan’s Nobel prize was not only a statement to musical value, but was a relief for many potential songwriters who may have thought their music was going unrecognised. Dylan’s Nobel Prize was fully well-deserved.