Bob Dylan, long before he won the Nobel prize for literature, surpassed his self-chosen namesake, Dylan Thomas. Thomas died young, and Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan has been an icon for longer than his hero lived. Through America’s most tumultuous times, his music – arguably because of the depth and poignancy of his lyrics – became the foreground score for movements of peace and equality.
From his niche appeal to disillusioned sub-culture, Dylan became one of the most popular musicians of the 20th century. The times they are a changin’ became both inspiration and prophecy during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s and the call for peace in what many perceived to be America’s unjust war in Vietnam was Blowing in the wind as he promised A hard rain’s gonna fall.
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The committee in Stockholm has recognised Dylan for poetry and its power. Many have argued that this expands what we define as literature and with his body of work and sheer creative stamina, there is no candidate more qualified. Dylan, however, has not been ignored. While his voice has lost some of his power, his legacy is undiminished. Every generation continues to breed die-hard fans. His influence, arguably, is greater than most other winners of the literary honour. The Nobel Prize may have expanded the ambit of how it defines literature, but it has diminished Dylan rather than elevated him. There are many poets and writers, arguably better than him, but few have had a political and moral impact on as large a scale.
For years now, young people have googled and researched his songs and their lyrics and discovered the politics of his art – liberal, egalitarian and pacifist. While Dylan certainly deserves the Nobel prize, its not for literature. At a time when the US and the world stares at the possibility of a Trump presidency, African-Americans protest police brutality and structural violence and a belligerent nationalism is growing in Europe, Dylan’s legacy is more important than ever. Dylan deserved the Nobel Prize, but for peace, not literature.