I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan for as long as I can remember, through all the ups and downs of my life and his career. I’ve tuned in for the sublime and the inspirational, and yes, for the dross as well. It’s been a long and usually rewarding journey.
So I’ve been intrigued by the global kerfuffle that followed the announcement of his Nobel Prize in literature last month. Rejoicing fans, academic snobbery – and some downright mean-spirited spleen venting too.
There are some big questions conjured by giving Bob the Nobel. Are song lyrics literature? You could make a case either way – but I vote “yes” on that one.
The bigger question is how can we give a bloke a prize in a specific category when he’s spent his whole career exercising his chameleon-like ability to resist, to defy categorisation? Dylan was famously asked at a mid-60s press conference whether he thought of himself as a singer or as a poet. “I think of myself more as a song and dance man”, he replied.
Recognition, it seems, extends to even the most mercurial.
I’ve done a radio piece on Dylan’s Nobel gong for the ABC Digital Show It’s Just Not Cricket – hosted by the marvellous Glynn Greensmith. It’s a 16-minute journey through the literary landscape of Bob Dylan songs, in which I suggest that literature is meant to be heard, as well as read. That literature should not repose like dead kings in musty books on dusty shelves, never to be visited or re-invented.