Bob Dylan has been nominated for the literature Nobel for years, but no one had seriously expected the Swedish Academy to honour him. Now that it has opened its gilt-trimmed doors wide to poetry intended to be sung, there are many more candidates waiting in the wings. Even if we exclude those chart-topping yet execrable lyricists who close off their lines with “ooh, yeh”, a red flag indicating that their vocabulary has failed their sense of rhyme, there are many.
The trailblazing poets of “English music”, as it is known in India — Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, John Lennon and Howlin’ Wolf, for instance — are no longer eligible, since the Academy peevishly declines to honour the dead. But there are many others, who can be nominated for the 2017 prizes (please hustle, the deadline is February 1):
* Leonard Cohen for Suzanne, which recalls ancient invocations to the mother goddess, in the avatar of nereid in hippie chic:
“Now Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river,/ She is wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters,/ And the sun pours down like honey on Our Lady of the Harbour…”
* Led Zeppelin for two lines in Stairway to Heaven:
“In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings,/ Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.” There are many more, too.
* John Fogerty for Proud Mary, for the sheer inexorability of that “big wheel” that keeps on turnin’.
* Let us celebrate candour, too. So, Elton John for Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, which encodes the frank desire to grow pot:
“I’ll go my way alone/ Grow my own, my own seeds shall be sown/ In New York City.”
* And Neil Young, for the bizarrely bold revelation in Heart of Gold:
“And I’m getting old.”
That was in 1972. The clock has been ticking since then.
This is a list as endless as a Möbius strip, dynamically sliceable into multiple versions. Some will include November Rain. Some will reject it as middle-class Pink Floyd, and replace it with something from ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’. And some will reject “English music” altogether in favour of Jovanotti (Italian), Till Lindemann (German) or Veronika Dolina (Russian). In short, the Nobel bureaucracy has opened the door to a very long journey.