The Interesting Side-Effect of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

As I’ve mentioned here many times, I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan. I’m delighted that he won the Nobel Prize. I’m not actually surprised; I knew he had been nominated for the past ten years, and I actually called it on Twitter a few minutes before the prize was awarded, and also in a Facebook discussion a few days earlier. (I only wish I had placed a bet on him winning the prize…)

I’ve been seeing some interesting discussions on Facebook, where I take part in a number of groups about music and musicians. Lots of people are asking who could be the next songwriter or lyricist to win the Nobel Prize?

First, I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. Dylan’s prize has certainly opened the door to more lyricists being nominated, just as the 2015 prize to Svetlana Alexievich opened the door to journalists, but that doesn’t mean that the Swedish Academy is going to reward songwriters often. And even if they did, they would certainly not all be people who write in English.

But there’s a lot of discussion about whose lyrics are Nobel-worthy. And I think that’s a good thing. I’ve always felt that lyrics are important, at least for certain types of songwriters. I think a subset of music fans, at least among those who are interested in literature, are going to pay more attention to the words of the songs they listen to.

People have been tossing out names such as Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, John Lennon, even Pink Floyd. I don’t think any of those artists come anywhere near Bob Dylan, at least as far as their lyrics are poetry. But it’s great that this discussion is taking place. I would expect to see a few more lyricists getting nominations for the prize in the future.

12 thoughts on “The Interesting Side-Effect of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

  1. . . . discussion about whose lyrics are Nobel-worthy???? Hello? People need to understand that the Nobel is not 100% quality based. The Nobel looks at how the entity has affected society, and how far it’s effects reach. How come we’ve never heard of most of the prior winners? Can you name ten?

    • Maybe because you don’t care much about literature? Off the top of my head, Herta Muller, Patrick Modiano, Le Clezio, Svetlana Alexievich, then going further back, Pinter, Golding, Beckett, Camus, Sartre, Vargas Llosa, Golding, Doris Lessing, etc.

  2. . . . discussion about whose lyrics are Nobel-worthy???? Hello? People need to understand that the Nobel is not 100% quality based. The Nobel looks at how the entity has affected society, and how far it’s effects reach. How come we’ve never heard of most of the prior winners? Can you name ten?

    • Maybe because you don’t care much about literature? Off the top of my head, Herta Muller, Patrick Modiano, Le Clezio, Svetlana Alexievich, then going further back, Pinter, Golding, Beckett, Camus, Sartre, Vargas Llosa, Golding, Doris Lessing, etc.

  3. My memory of Literature Prize winners is spotty, mostly older writers, that I have read. Still better than my memory of Physics or Chemistry Prize winners, however. Tagore, Buck, García Márquez, Pasternak, Szymborska (who I just discovered two years ago), Neruda, Solzhenitsyn, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Paz, Grass, Vargas Llosa (often entertaining, but overrated), Morrison… and my memory begins to peter out.

    OK, looking through the list of all winners, I see that there are many more that I know well enough, but didn’t remember as prize winners. While I agree that “the Nobel is not 100% quality based”, I don’t think it can be, nor is that a valid criticism. No other prize is, after all. The list of prize winners is very impressive. If I find some to be tedious or less than stellar, other people might think the same about my favorites.

    As far as lyricists “worthy” of the prize, the biggest problem for most is the fairly small body of published work. Creating twenty or thirty significant music albums is a huge achievement in popular music, but the lyrics could be published in a few slim volumes of poetry. As I ponder which lyricist I would nominate next, the first name that comes to mind is Chico Buarque de Hollanda of Brazil.

    • Good point about quantity. Dylan is an incredibly prolific songwriter. Most songwriters or lyricists haven’t written anywhere near as much as he has. An artist with, say, two dozen albums won’t have a body of work that is extensive enough (IMHO) to merit a Nobel.

      As for others who might deserve it, even with a small body of work, Robert Hunter certainly comes to mind. But I would also think that one needs to look to other languages.

  4. My memory of Literature Prize winners is spotty, mostly older writers, that I have read. Still better than my memory of Physics or Chemistry Prize winners, however. Tagore, Buck, García Márquez, Pasternak, Szymborska (who I just discovered two years ago), Neruda, Solzhenitsyn, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Paz, Grass, Vargas Llosa (often entertaining, but overrated), Morrison… and my memory begins to peter out.

    OK, looking through the list of all winners, I see that there are many more that I know well enough, but didn’t remember as prize winners. While I agree that “the Nobel is not 100% quality based”, I don’t think it can be, nor is that a valid criticism. No other prize is, after all. The list of prize winners is very impressive. If I find some to be tedious or less than stellar, other people might think the same about my favorites.

    As far as lyricists “worthy” of the prize, the biggest problem for most is the fairly small body of published work. Creating twenty or thirty significant music albums is a huge achievement in popular music, but the lyrics could be published in a few slim volumes of poetry. As I ponder which lyricist I would nominate next, the first name that comes to mind is Chico Buarque de Hollanda of Brazil.

    • Good point about quantity. Dylan is an incredibly prolific songwriter. Most songwriters or lyricists haven’t written anywhere near as much as he has. An artist with, say, two dozen albums won’t have a body of work that is extensive enough (IMHO) to merit a Nobel.

      As for others who might deserve it, even with a small body of work, Robert Hunter certainly comes to mind. But I would also think that one needs to look to other languages.

  5. I can vouch that Kirk called it four days (give or take, on account of time zones) before the announcement. It was in a discussion on my Facebook Timeline.

  6. I can vouch that Kirk called it four days (give or take, on account of time zones) before the announcement. It was in a discussion on my Facebook Timeline.

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