Bob Dylan gets Nobel Prize for literature!!!!

October 13, 2016 • 6:22 am

Well knock me over with a feather: this is something that NOBODY expected, and of course no reader guessed in the contest. My CNN Newsfeed reports this:

Bob Dylan is awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy says.

The Wall Street Journal adds this:

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to musician Bob Dylan for creating “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

I’m flummoxed, but I can’t say that the man doesn’t deserve it: his songs are iconic and many of them classics. Still, I can’t think of any other songwriter who got the prize for their music. The Indian polymath Rabrindranath Tagore won it in 1913, and had written hundreds of beautiful songs (with words), but he got it for his published poetry, especially the collection Gitanjali.  Since it’s a literature prize, of course, no songwriter is going to get it for their music alone; there must be lyrics, and that’s what the prize citation says.

One friend wrote me after hearing the news: “I like his music but he didn’t create anything particularly new.” You could make the case, though, that neither did any writer of fiction. What they created was new imaginings that stirred the emotions, and I’d say that songs like “Blowin’ in The Wind,” “I Shall be Released,” “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” “Mr. Tambourine Man”, and “Like a Rolling Stone” are pretty much sui generis: the musical equivalent of great novels.

Feel free to tout your favorite Dylan songs in the comments. In the meantime, congratulations, Mr. Zimmerman, and I’ll be delighted to see you interact with the King of Sweden.


USA Today ranks all of Dylan’s 359 songs from the best (#1) to worst, but I disagree profoundly with their rankings. For instance, they put “Like a Rolling Stone” at #357! Rolling Stone’s list of his 100 best songs is better, with “Like a Rolling Stone” at its proper position at #1. Such are the disparities of taste. But I know of no better song about Schadenfreude for someone who’s fallen from the heights. Here’s a live version from the infamous 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, in which Dylan was booed by his fans for “going electric.” (The famous organ riff, by the way, was devised by Al Kooper.)

160 thoughts on “Bob Dylan gets Nobel Prize for literature!!!!

  1. “Award of Nobel prize for literature to LSD-smoking United States peasant minstrel Robert Dylan shows total degeneration of western culture.”

    -DPRK News Service via Twi^^er

    1. Yeah, I gotta say they really flubbed their attempted insult with ‘peasant minstrel.’ My guess is most folk musicians would love to have that appellation.

      1. LSD Smoking = emphatic no to this ignorant Guardian statement.

        It had to have been tongue-in-cheek, it’s so ludicrous.

      2. Smokin’ LSD: It doesn’t work because the active ingredients in the salt LSD degrade rapidly at a very low temperature [80 degrees C maybe?]. To inhale LSD you’d need to vaporise it without heat somehow & I’ve not come across anyone who’s done that.

        I have heard of people dipping their MJ spliffs in liquid LSD & lighting up, but I’d be amazed if any LSD survives long enough to reach beyond the lips.

        There are people who claim they’ve smoked LSD, but it’s all anecdotal commentary from pothead types who’re probably confusing LSD with other chemicals that can be smoked. Recreational drug users are notoriously poor at unbiased reporting – it is well known that one can get people high [or drunk] so long as they *believe* there’s an active ingredient present [THC or alcohol or whatever] even when the product is fake.

      3. It’s a joke. The DPRK News is a parody site run by one of the writers for Popehat. In the past, some real news organizations have taken its Tweets for real stories and reported them.

  2. Well, this is refreshing. I wish Leonard Cohen were next, but the Academy will probably not repeat this stunt any time soon.

  3. From the USA Today ranking list . . .

    3. Like A Rolling Stone (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

    357. Like A Rolling Stone (Self Portrait, 1970)

    I’m not enough of a Dylan fan to have even been aware that Dylan released more than 1 version of the song. The version I know is one of my favorite Dylan songs.

    But, for some reason I still remember that my Comp 101 professor did her Doctoral dissertation on Bob Dylan. I didn’t like the class. I had to do a term paper on James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Question my taste in literature if you will but I thought that novel was fairly awful dreck. Still do. It was much more fun and interesting writing a later paper in a mythology course that I titled The Anglo Saxon Origins Of The Rohirrim, or something like that.

  4. Okay – the following probably isn’t going to make me any friends here.

    I don’t know what it is about Dylan that irritates me so much but I’ve never been drawn into his music in the same way that I was to someone like Neil Young. Partly it’s the deification of the man by the awful seat-sniffing ‘Dylanologists’, partly it’s his general lack of interest in melody and tin-ear for a tune(although as I’ve got older I can appreciate some of his less obvious music in a way I couldn’t when I was younger), but it’s his lyrics that irritate me most. They’re good lyrics, in that they function as pseudo-meaningful if they’re being sung over a good tune, but they’re not literature and close inspection does not do them favours. They sound good, by which I mean they sound like they’re meaningful and deep, or symbolic and prophetic, but his fans often do what fans of wotsisname…Nostradamus do, in sifting through his writing and excising the parts that fit whatever interpretation they’ve decided upon – a lot of the meaning imputed to them involves the listener doing some serious heavy lifting.
    I’m not criticising him as a rock and roll lyricist – I’m criticising the repeated assertion that his lyrics are somehow of a different order of quality to those of his peers. This is the guy Van Morrison once described in an interview as ‘the greatest poet of all time’ or something similarly ludicrous.

    But, after my irritation with people holding him up as some kind of modern Byron dies away and I calm down a bit I admit that there are plenty of his songs that I absolutely love: Buckets Of Rain, Lay, Lady Lay, 4th Time Around, I Don’t Believe You, an absolutely sublime version of You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere that I found on a crappy best-of tape belonging to an ex… I can’t really square the love I have for some of his songs with the way I bridle when people talk about him, or award him a bloody Nobel Prize. A Nobel Prize!

    I guess I think he’s sometimes brilliant, although Neil Young was always the better songwriter of that period in my eyes and ears, and I love more than enough of his songs to call myself a…fan. I suppose. But he’s just so insanely highly rated by most people that I can’t get on board with that particular consensus. So I grouch about like this whenever he comes up and make a whole load of immediate, mild enemies.

    1. You’re right, you’re not winning any friends here. In fact, we’re readying the torches and pitchforks…

      Kidding! While I love Dylan’s music, ever since the first time I found my parents’ copy of Blonde on Blonde, I can relate to not understanding the love of certain iconic musicians. I, for one, cannot stand Leonard Cohen. Another musician who inspires total devotion or complete disgust, Tom Waits, I adore beyond words but I’ve known plenty who’d rather jam sharpened pencils in their ears than hear him utter a single note.

      1. Hmm…yeah – Tom Waits has never done much for me either…but unlike with Dylan I feel like I’ve not really given him much of a chance. With Dylan I really tried, I promise… Although I stopped buying up his post-’75 back catalogue so I can’t really comment on his less well-regarded albums.

        And don’t get me started on his recent stuff – my dad loves it but I can’t get this Adam & Joe Show Dylan impression out of my mind when I hear him these days:

      2. Love Dylan, Cohen, and Waits even though none can sing worth shit. Will be interested to hear Bob’s acceptance speech and see the tux.

      3. I figured, being a pretty serious Folkie, that I would love Leonard Cohen. I got an “essential” compilation and found it simply dreadful: Just music to open your veins to.

        There are plenty of covers of his music that I like a lot.

        1. I’ve never gone to the lengths you have exploring Leonard Cohen’s music, but based on my comparatively meager sampling I’m with you on this one.

    2. Well, I think you’ve got a friend here, Saul, though perhaps I shall change my mind if I listen, as recommended, to ‘Blonde on Blonde’ (I shall); I certainly approved when young of Dylan’s political sentiments and liked certain of his songs, though. But for me, the good news about his winning the Nobel Prize is that the very over-rated writer, Murakami Haruki – ain’t got it.

      Can I also say – though this will gain me no friend either, I suspect – is that I really do not begin to know how one might compare Dylan’s songs to great novels (‘Blowing in the Wind’ to ‘War & Peace’ or ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ to, say, ‘Malone Dies’, or ‘Hey, Mr Tambourine Man’ to ‘In Search of Lost Time’?) – I honestly don’t see how one can do it. To a body of lyric poetry, perhaps… Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Keats’s Odes, Holderlin, Georg Trakl, Osip Mandelstam, Paul Valery, Sorley MacLean’s great poetry in Gaelic? Or to a poet/composer like Thomas Campion, for whom I have huge admiration because of his wonderful ear. Or to John Dowland, who often set verss whose author we don’t know though some may have been Dowland’s own: ‘In darkness let me dwell’ is one of the greatest English songs. But one problem with songs, is that the music is usually more important then the words, so that many very good songs set verse that is not very high in literary quality – much of Purcell, for example (whose music and imaginative setting of words I have immense admiration for). I like ‘Hey, Mr Tambourine Man’ more for its melody and accompaniment than for its words, though they are of course good enough to make it a good song.

      I suspect that political considerations played a part in Dylan’s being awarded the prize, but he’s a good man and I’m not going to complain too much.

      1. I can’t say lyrics in music have ever really been my main interest. The music has always been more important, and I react to it in an intense, physical way that I don’t when I’m listening to lyrics. Neil Young always came above Dylan for me because he had such an exquisite ear for melody and at his peak he was just sloughing off great tunes on After The Goldrush and Harvest and Everybody Knows…. And stuff like Thrasher, off Rust Never Sleeps, does Dylan better than Dylan IMO.

        For me a great song can be great musically and fall down lyrically but not the reverse. Lyrics aren’t enough alone to elevate a song to greatness, whereas melody is. Which is why there are plenty of fabulous songs with utterly inane lyrics but none that are musically inane.

        But then this is my definition of ‘a great song’, so it automatically rules out counter-examples. It’s all subjective really, I admit…although at the same time my tastes are pre-eminent and supervene upon everyone else’s. Obviously.

        P.S. There’s a good chapter in Hitch’s ‘Arguably’ where he discusses the similarities between Dylan’s loveliest song Lay, Lady Lay, and the work of various balladeers and poets. I think John Donne’s To His Mistress Going To Bed. Might be of interest to you.

        1. Oh, I know Donne’s poetry very well. And I note that unlike Don (the Drumpf), the poet asks his mistress to licence his roving hands before they go a-roving so late into the night…
          I prepared a course called ‘Poem into Song’ for Japan’s Open University, and, yes, it is the music that is nearly always, if not always, more important. Music is still more ‘simple, sensuous & passionate’ than poetry, and poems that are too complex often fail, when set, as songs (though there are exceptions – Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s poems, some of Britten’s songs, for example, or Copland’s settings of Emily Dickinson, though in the latter case at least I prefer the poems without the music, much as I admire Copland).

          1. I occasionally try and write words for the music I also write, and any time I aim for lyrics that are anywhere near as complex and nuanced as actual poetry it sounds awful – just mannered and pretentious and awkward. That kind of writing doesn’t work in the context of a song(when I do it at least), and I’ve found it’s probably best to write the lyrics for the music rather than the other way ’round.

            I like the sound of that course of yours, although my exploration of classical music is generally rooted in the more modern, minimalist stuff – Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams…

          2. My knowledge of Italian is derived almost solely from the fruity epithets that characters in The Sopranos hurl at one another. Nice, rich sounding stuff but I’d be a bit wary of writing songs based on it. ‘Faccia brutta’ comes up a lot for example. I’m assuming it doesn’t mean ‘I wanna hold your hand’.

        2. “Lay Lady Lay” forever enshrined in ignorance the difference between the transitive verb “LAY” and the intransitive “LIE”.

          “Lie Lady Lie” [upon your big brass bed] would have been grammatically proper.

          Dylan the Peasant drove the last nail into this syntactical coffin.

          1. Yeah, but this Grammar Nazi can forgive Bob his lays as she happily lost her virginity ( such a strange expression!) on a brass bed with Dylan singing in the background😍

          2. Had Bob used proper grammar on that tune, it would’ve been misconstrued as a paean to distaff perfidy.

          3. Those things always bug me, too. Another, er, classic–“If they say I never loved you
            You know they are a liar.”

        3. Completely agree; lyrics have always been a distant consideration for me, when it comes to enjoying music. When I want words, I read. When I listen to music, it’s for, well, the music. The pop vocalist (rock, jazz, blues, country, whatever) is just another band member playing an instrument, as far as I’m concerned; the art is in the performance, not in the words. In fact I don’t even care if I can make out the words at all, usually. I’ve never been someone who needs to know the words to enjoy the song.

          My only criterion for rock and pop lyrics is that they not be so bad as to be a distraction. And the most distracting lyrics are the pseudo-profound. Superficial lyrics, on the other hand, can be a perfectly fine vehicle for a good performance.

      2. I agree. Song writing and most other forms of literature – except maybe poetry – are not really comparable to most literature although Dylan up there in the genre. Dont object to the choice so long as its understood music is about music and doesnt need lyrics. When it does have lyrics, it is defined considerably more by the quality of the music than the lyrics, though of course good lyrics help. Personally, I tend to respond emotionally to the music and tend to subconsciously tune out the lyrics of a given song

        1. I do that all the time too. I have some favourite songs that I must have listened to hundreds of times and I still don’t know what the lyrics are, nor do I care enough to find out.

          Plus there’s that awful feeling you get when you do finally read up on a song’s lyrics and you discover that the artist’s intended meaning is vastly more mundane than the meaning you had in your head, or is just disappointingly politically naive.

          1. But Liz Fraser sang in an impressionistic, semi-made-up language. There’s a difference – it was intentionally opaque. Same with My Bloody Valentine: most of their album Loveless is lyrically unintelligible even to this day and no-one gives a shit. Some people call it the greatest album of the nineties and I’d wager none of those people could recite even a single full line from any of its songs.

          2. Yes I agree. Music is different for everyone, but personally I tend not to listen much to the lyrics.

    3. I am glad that the 60s happened – clearing the vanilla music off the airwaves & record shelves, but…

      I am uneasy with Dylan the artist because it was a false persona – the travelling minstrel never convinced me. He wasn’t alone in this of course with many of the protest singers of his era driving around to each others Laurel Canyon homes in their Porsches. I think Neil Young was perhaps a little different [only a little] because he drove around in a hearse in the early 60s 🙂

      Give me the blues of Son House or some of the original folk sources that Dylan & his kind mined for their bogus “freewheelin”

      1. Bob Dylan is not just a great artist; he’s a great American. My reasons for saying soare threefold: He could have been produced only in this place, in this era. He’s participated in our national life. And he’s made that life a little better, a bit more piquant, helping explain us to ourselves.

        Which isn’t to say he’s not also a citizen of the world. He is.

        But he doesn’t need to justify himself to you, or to me, or to anybody else. Like any true artist, he need only satisfy himself. As he famously said in Absolutely Sweet Marie “to live outside the law, you must be honest.”

      2. “I am uneasy with Dylan the artist because it was a false persona – the travelling minstrel never convinced me.”

        And IIANM, he said as much in his memoir. Or at least something to the effect that he never wanted to be canonized. The early pairing of Dylan and Baez was thus pretty ironic, since NO ONE was more committed to her message than Joan.

    4. Another friend signing in 🙂

      I feel essentially the same way about Dylan.
      I’ve never been able to get into his stuff (though I ultimately was able to warm to Niel Young).

      I’ve seen documentaries on Dylan that detail his impact and, intellectually, I get it.
      My brother and some friends love Dylan, have tried to enlighten me, made me mixes of Dylan’s best stuff….and I try to listen, but it never takes. It just sounds to me like a guy who has some things he wants to say and is choosing to try to sing them, with little singing talent, while strumming relatively tuneless chords.

      Then again, I don’t get Cohen or Waits either – or any other set of “deep” lyricists whose music is utterly unappealing.

      As with Dylan, all I can think is “look, maybe just write poetry – the music part isn’t working for me.”

      1. Good to know I’m not alone… Dylan is sometimes taken so seriously that criticising him feels like haranguing the faithful whilst sat in church.

        …I mean, I imagine it’s like that – I’ve never shouted at the faithful whilst in church so I can’t be sure. I’m a bit of a wimp in that respect I guess. My friend Sam The Shouty Satanist OTOH has a lot more chutzpah.

        1. I’m on board with the comparison, too. Neil has always touched me personally in a way that absolutely no Dylan lyric ever did, but then, at least Dylan never tried to. Each did things the other would have loved to be able to do. Watching Neil play Tom Thumb’s Blues at Dylan’s 60th Birthday thing, it was clear that Neil was really lost in pretending he was Dylan for a while! But Dylan would never be able to write Pardon My Heart, or a few dozen others.

          Neil, however could never write anything of the order of Only a Pawn in Their Game — a song that describes poor Trump supporters today, as well as being rhetorical poetry of the highest order.

          1. I’ll echo those general sentiments. I think Neil Young was the better performer.

            Dylan did some good tunes – Knocking on Heaven’s Door – though they were usually performed better by others. (I have in mind Guns’n’Roses rock version which is as un-Dylan-like as one could possibly get…)

            Or ‘My Back Pages’ (here’s the Byrds cover:
            which is a classic example of what people are talking about – bizarre lyrics that are intriguing so long as you don’t try to make sense of them. But I do like the last four lines –

            Good and bad, I define these terms
            Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
            Ah, but I was so much older then,
            I’m younger than that now.

            I expect it all makes perfect sense and is absolutely clear, no doubt, somehow, under the influence of appropriate substances.


          2. ‘Pardon My Heart’! You’ve sent a little jolt down my spine there. I love Zuma, and that song in particular. So, so delicate.

            I remember reading a quote from a 70s music journalist who said something about NY having discovered a treasure trove of gorgeous melodies that he could dip into at any time.

        2. I feel the same about Dylan, though those songs of his that evoke certain eras and memories still affect me when I hear them.

  5. Hurricane, is my favorite. Like a Rolling Stone and Along Along The Watchtower were covered by Hendrix and even Dylan thought Watchtower better! I agree.
    Johnny Winter recorded a killer version of Highway 61 revisited on his ’76 album Captured Live.

    Good for Mister Zimmerman.

  6. I honestly could not chose a single song that is my favorite. I couldn’t choose a single style of Dylan that is my favorite, although I did get started on his early folk stuff first, via Arlo and Woody Guthrie, along with a Japanese pirated copy of his first album. What I can say is that he didn’t win this prize for his born again christian crap, that’s for sure. Anything in his pre-motorcyle accident days is pretty damn wonderful, and his later, post-near death music is fantastic. I was lucky enough to witness his first concert after the heart problem, in Kansas City, Mo at Spirit Fest in Sept. of 1997. It was a great crowd, and a great show. I’ve caught several shows since, including two on the tour with Paul Simon (also fantastic) and I hope to see him once again, finances permitting. All that said, it is rather odd, is it not, for an icon of the counter culture to win such an award?! (this is where one might insert a line from The Times They are A’Changin’, but I shall refrain…)

    1. My wife and I went to a Dylan concert a few years ago. It was probably the most disappointing concert I’ve ever been to. Every song sounded exactly the same. It was as if he was captive of some production operation that knew they could make money with the name and over-loud hack backup band.

      The evening’s high point was the opening act, Mark Knopfler, who was great.

      1. Likewise was totally disappointed by the 3 Dylan concerts I’ve gone to over the years. You’re right Greg, especially in the latest all the songs sounded exactly the same, as though he was just calling it in. ( the Foo
        fighters opening surprised me as being excellent, especially the drummer singer whose name escapes me). That said, I probably own just about every Dylan
        album on vinyl and CD. Leonard Cohen, otoh, is, like, totally awesome in concert😸

        1. Dave Grohl. He first came to fame as the drummer of the group Nirvana, the icons of Grunge. Some time after the lead singer, Kurt Cobain, committed suicide Dave formed The Foo Fighters. He is a fairly talented musician and has a genuine love of music of many genres.

          1. Thanks, Darrelle. Yes, Dave Grohl, of course. I took my mid-20s son maybe 5 years ago. He knew Foo Fighters and liked them and, like his mother who introduced him to Bob, was totally disappointev in Dylan’s performance. He said he couldn’t recognize any of the songs. All was mumbled. Not even any How does it feeeeeeeeeeels! I’ve just resigned myself to loving Dylan on the stereo.

          2. I really get the disappointment at an artist performing poorly live. There have been several times where that has turned me off of an artist, and a couple of times where an artist sounding better than I expected made me like them much more than I had.

            Stand out examples for both. On the negative side, The Rolling Stones. I saw them live in the early ’80s at a big stadium concert with Van Halen and several other artists. All my friends thought it was just great. But cheeeezus! They sucked. The music, particularly the Jagger’s vocals, was horrible. It put me off the Stones for years.

            On the positive side, Loverboy (laugh all you want). I was sort of meh about them and was sort of embarrassed to sort of like a couple of their songs. Then I saw them in concert at a relatively small venue (maybe 200 – 300 people) in the late ’80s. They sounded so good live, both instruments and vocals, that I became a fan. BB King was another that sounded phenomenal live.

          3. I was going to quote that as an example of a cover version, but I settled for Guns’n’Roses version instead.

            That version you linked has some magnificent playing by Mark (vocals were by Ted Christopher), unfortunately it was rewritten for a Dunblane massacre benefit or something so it’s got a chunk of cringe-inducing Goddy lyrics in it. Ignore the lyrics and just listen to Mark’s guitar hoot and sing like angels on a Saturday night, exhausted from being good all week and needing a stiff drink.

      2. I saw Dylan at the Houston Rodeo a few years ago and during the performance I remarked to my wife: Gee, I didn’t know Dylan could sing in Chinese !

      3. “The evening’s high point was the opening act, Mark Knopfler, who was great.”

        Ah, Mark Knopfler, possibly the only music star with a voice worse than Dylan’s. (Umm, did someone mention Leonard Cohen? Okay, him too).

        Don’t get me wrong, Mark Knopfler is one of my guitar heroes. But the best one can say of his voice is that it’s adequate for the demands he places on it – which are prudently modest, he lets his guitar do the singing for him.

        Sorry for the digression…


    2. and to reconcile my two comments thus far, lest I sound a complete fool, my intro to Dylan was his early folk recordings, as I was already a huge Arlo and Woody fan, but it was Blonde on Blonde that cemented my love for him at first listen.

      Ballad of Hollis Brown, by the way, was an early favorite of mine. I can still remember listening to it, scratching away on my turntable, on a cool autumn evening, sitting on the scuffed wood floors of a run-down rental house with my acoustic guitar in my lap. I don’t suppose many would list that amongst their favorites but it has a haunting beauty that deems it well worth a listen, preferably alone, at night, and in the proper mood.

      1. Sounds like an unbearably nostalgic remembrance. Music seems to be highly correlated with those in my experience.

        There are some songs that I have long loved but that I can’t really listen too anymore because of the exquisite, nearly painful, nostalgia that they evoke, being closely associated with defining past experiences.

      2. I read somewhere that he performed that on his first trip to England. Martin Carthy (the English folk singer who taught him the odious Scarborough Fair, which he improved on to make Girl From the North Country — Later Paul Simon learned it from Carthy too and had a huge hit with Carthy’s version and never acknowledged the debt)… um… yeh, so Carthy took him to Ewan McColl’s folk club, and the young Dylan sang Hollis Brown. The audience was stunned, but McColl hated it — perhaps feeling a bit upstaged and irrelevant.

  7. Fave Dylan song: All Along the Watchtower.

    Evidently, after hearing Jimi’s cover of it, Dylan started performing like Jimi did, because he liked that version better too!

  8. I think he totally deserved the prize, he may not have the best voice, but his lyrics are brilliant and striking as they address the emotions that are hidden deep in our hearts. His songs are simple, yet profound and genuine, and I think the fact that they keep inspiring people from many generations already, says a lot!

    I have several songs that I can listen endlessly: All I Really Want to Do, The Times They Are A-Changin and Girl From the North Country, however, the song that evokes the strongest emotions on a personal level is Simple Twist of Fate. This is a “What If” song, so lets just leave it there. What I think is notable about Simple Twist of Fate is that its rather cheerful musical theme mingled with heartbreaking words is capable on creating an emotional turmoil.

    Here are my favorite lyrics from the song

    “People tell me it’s a sin
    To know and feel too much within
    I still believe she was my twin but I lost the ring
    She was born in spring but I was born too late
    Blame it on a simple twist of fate.”

    1. Those you mentioned and also: Tangled Up In Blue (my personal favorite):

      Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
      I was layin’ in bed
      Wondrin’ if she’d changed at all
      If her hair was still red
      Her folks they said our lives together
      Sure was gonna be rough
      They never did like
      Mama’s homemade dress
      Papa’s bank book wasn’t big enough
      And I was standin’ on the side of the road
      Rain fallin’ on my shoes
      Heading out for the east coast
      Lord knows I’ve paid some dues
      Gettin’ through
      Tangled up in blue

      She was married when we first met
      Soon to be divorced
      I helped her out of a jam I guess
      But I used a little too much force
      We drove that car as far as we could
      Abandoned it out west
      Split up on a dark sad night
      Both agreeing it was best
      She turned around to look at me
      As I was walkin’ away
      I heard her say over my shoulder
      We’ll meet again some day
      On the avenue
      Tangled up in blue

      I had a job in the great north woods
      Working as a cook for a spell
      But I never did like it all that much
      And one day the axe just fell
      So I drifted down to New Orleans
      Where I was looking for to be employed
      Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
      Right outside of Delacroix
      But all the while I was alone
      The past was close behind
      I seen a lot of women
      But she never escaped my mind
      And I just grew
      Tangled up in blue

      She was workin’ in a topless place
      And I stopped in for a beer
      I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
      In the spotlight so clear
      And later on as the crowd thinned out
      I’s just about to do the same
      She was standing there in back of my chair
      Said to me, Don’t I know your name?
      I muttered somethin’ under my breath
      She studied the lines on my face
      I must admit I felt a little uneasy
      When she bent down to tie the laces
      Of my shoe
      Tangled up in blue

      She lit a burner on the stove
      And offered me a pipe
      I thought you’d never say hello, she said
      You look like the silent type
      Then she opened up a book of poems
      And handed it to me
      Written by an Italian poet
      From the thirteenth century
      And everyone of them words rang true
      And glowed like burnin’ coal
      Pourin’ off of every page
      Like it was written in my soul
      From me to you
      Tangled up in blue

      I lived with them on Montague Street
      In a basement down the stairs
      There was music in the cafes at night
      And revolution in the air
      Then he started into dealing with slaves
      And something inside of him died
      She had to sell everything she owned
      And froze up inside
      And when finally the bottom fell out
      I became withdrawn
      The only thing I knew how to do
      Was to keep on keepin’ on
      Like a bird that flew
      Tangled up in blue

      So now I’m goin’ back again
      I got to get to her somehow
      All the people we used to know
      They’re an illusion to me now
      Some are mathematicians
      Some are carpenters’ wives
      Don’t know how it all got started
      I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
      But me, I’m still on the road
      Headin’ for another joint
      We always did feel the same
      We just saw it from a different point
      Of view
      Tangled up in blue

      Songwriters: Bob Dylan
      Tangled Up in Blue lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.

        1. Its usually Highway 61 and Blonde^2 that get most of the love, but IMHO Blood On The Tracks is the one to go for, even if you haven’t liked the Dylan you’ve heard before.

          Three or four of the songs on there are far more soulful than any soul song I’ve heard.

          1. I agree. I remember how comforting it was to listen to Blood On The Tracks, as the album yet again proves that resenting our choices, grieving for love that could have happened and struggling with “what if’s” doesnt make us duds or losers, it makes us humans.

      1. Blood on the Tracks may be my favorite Dylan album. My judgement may be clouded since it ca, out during my first year in college and had a profound effect on me. I really like this version of Tangled Up in Blue from Jerry Garcia with Melvin Seals on organ and Jackie LaBranch and Gloria Rose on backup vocals. It seems the song could use a couple of gospel singers.

        1. Sorry – goofed up. Did not cut and paste my link info correctly as per the rules. I go to Da Roolz, copy the link code, edit it, and then paste the wrong thing into my post.

    2. I’ve always loved The Times They are a-Changin’. I consider the lyrics to be a warning and a call to action, on personal, national, and global human levels.

      “Come gather ’round people where ever you roam
      And admit that the waters around you have grown
      And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
      If your time to you is worth savin’
      Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,
      For the times they are a’ changin’!

      Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen
      And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again
      And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin
      And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
      For the loser now will be later to win
      For the times they are a’ changin’!

      Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
      Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall
      For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
      There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’
      It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
      For the times they are a’ changin’!

      Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
      And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
      Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
      Your old road is rapidly agin’
      Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
      For the times they are a’ changin’!

      The line it is drawn the curse it is cast
      The slow one now will later be fast
      As the present now will later be past
      The order is rapidly fadin’
      And the first one now will later be last
      For the times they are a’ changin’!”

  9. Isn’t music and meaning and on and on, just subjective. The Awards committee can do whatever they want.

    When they give out the first one for web sites with the highest standards – congratulations to – Professor Coyne.

    1. I think that argument will last as long as humans do, perhaps longer. It seems to me that music and any meaning derived from it is certainly highly subjective, but it also seems likely to me that there are at least some objective aspects to it. Certain combinations of notes / chords seem to evoke similar emotional responses across a wide range of people. A talented musician can play an audience’s mood nearly as well as their instrument.

  10. Must be the only Nobel Prize awarded for work created while under the influence of whatever, perhaps we should instigate random drug tests for Nobel Prize Winners. lol

  11. When I heard the news, just before reading WEIT, I had a bet with myself as to how many exclamation marks Jerry would use in making his announcement. I lost!

  12. Some five years ago I attended a meeting in De Melkweg, a music venue in Amsterdam,organized to make sure that Dylan would win the Nobel-prize. Yet I would never have expected this would happen.

  13. Although my ringtone is he harmonica intro to I’ll be Your Baby Tonight my favourite track would be Visions of Johanna. HOWEVER I would have been much happier if Philip Roth had got the Nobel

  14. I am amazed. I took a course on Bob Dylan’s lyrics at University of Oregon in the late 1970s. I listened to everything Dylan had written up to then. Being an avid reader of poetry (and one who tries to write it), I read his lyrics carefully, and many times over. There were some I never “got”. And, I’m a person who always hears the lyrics of music and finds them a most important element of the music. I’m not saying that the notes and instrumentation aren’t equally important. Just that some of us listen to the words, and some don’t. My husband never caught the words.

    I never became accustomed to Dylan’s singing voice.

    If anyone here hasn’t heard them, listen to the two recordings by “The Traveling Wilburys”.
    Bob Dylan was one of the members. The video is fun to watch.

    Congratulations, Bob Dylan!

  15. From ^w*^^er:
    Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie)
    10/13/16, 08:35
    From Orpheus to Faiz,song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition.Great choice. #Nobel

  16. In this season of Trumpery did the Committee consider the (admittedly deceased) claims of Frank Zappa?

    (from Brown Shoes Don’t Make It)
    A world of secret hungers
    Perverting the men who make your laws
    Every desire is hidden away
    In a drawer in a desk by a Naugahyde chair
    On a rug where they walk and drool
    Past the girls in the office

    We see in the back
    Of the City Hall mind
    The dream of a girl about thirteen
    Off with her clothes and into a bed
    Where she tickles his fancy
    All night long

    His wile’s attending an orchid show
    She squealed for a week to get him to go
    But back in the bed his teen-age queen
    Is rocking and rolling and acting obscene
    Baby, baby. ..
    Baby, baby. . .
    Gimmie then cakes, uh!
    If I do I’m gonna lose my…

    And he loves it, he loves it
    It curls up his toes
    She wipes his fat neck
    And it lights up his nose
    But he cannot be fooled
    Old City Hall Fred
    She’s nasty, she’s nasty
    She digs it in bed
    That’s right

    Do it again, ha
    And do it some more
    Hey, that does it, by golly
    And she’s nasty for sure
    Nasty nasty nasty
    Nasty nasty nasty
    Only thirteen, and she knows how to nasty

    1. I often quote Zappa’s You Are What You Is to spiritual folk who think that Chopra or Neale Donald Walsch or Jung for that matter, are profound–

      Dou you know who you are?
      You are what you is
      You is what you am
      A cow don’t make ham
      You ain’t what you’re not
      So see what you got
      You are what you is
      And that’s all it is

  17. I think they should have awarded an actual author….and come to think of it- has anyone heard this guy performing lately–it’s God-awful! I’m not a fan of folks that change their names to appear less jewy too- what exactly is up with that–denounce your heritage in a feeble attempt to pimp it out to the highest bidder lately?

    1. Did Dylan ever denounce Judaism? Not that I ever heard.

      Performers can call themselves anything they like.


  18. “I’m flummoxed, but I can’t say that the man doesn’t deserve it: his songs are iconic and many of them classics.”

    This was exactly my reaction.

  19. The surprise awarding of the Nobel Literature Prize to Bob Dylan may flummox some, but it seems well deserved to me.

    Two songs of his play spontaneously in my mind from time to time, provoked by so many random different kinds of events:

    “Things Have Changed, written for “Wonder Boys”, a 2000 film directed by Curtis Hanson (who died recently);

    “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, composed (like the film’s entire score) for “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”, Sam Peckinpah’s much-troubled 1973 release (in which Dylan took a shot at acting, too).

    “People are crazy and times have changed
    I’m locked in tight and out of range
    I used to care but things have changed”

    “Mama, take this badge off of me
    I can’t use it anymore
    “It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
    I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”

    Their resonance to so much in whirlpool of life remains eloquent.

    1. I just watched Wonder Boys again (5th time) and I have to agree that Dylan song is perfect, in an almost perfect film.

  20. Bob Dylan is the Great American Lyricist. And by that I mean the greatest American lyricist ever – and that includes Johnny Mercer and Sammy Cahn; George’s brother Ira; both of Richard Roger’s partners with H-names; Lowe’s partner, Lerner; Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and anybody else you can think of from the Great American Songbook/Tin-Pan Alley era.

    No other American lyricist — hell, no other American poet since Whitman — has had Dylan’s gift for melding the formal (the rhythms and diction of the King James bible, classical literature, this nation’s founding documents) with the demotic everyday colloquialisms of street guys, cowpokes, and vagabonds. (I don’t claim objectivity about Dylan – he’s been too outsized an influence on my own mental landscape – but I don’t think it’s a close call even. Aesthetic judgments like this are hard to quantify, but compared to any other American lyricist, Bob’s better by at least a magnum of ordertude.)

    I’m a big fan of Bob’s early stuff like Highway 61 and Freewheelin’ and Blonde on Blonde — really, all of them, Katie, up through and including John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline — and of some of his later stuff like Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft and Modern Times. But the real peak Dylan for me came midway through his 37-album catalogue, in the mid-1970s, after a studio-recording hiatus, when he put out three great albums in the space of two years — his re-collaboration with the Band, Planet Waves; his rawest, most personal album, Blood on the Tracks; and his return to protest singing and fecund songwriting partnership with Jaques Levy, Desire. For my money, no American recording artist had put out such a great three-record set in so short a time since Frank Sinatra’s path-breaking Capital recordings in the mid-Fifties, and no other American artist has done it since.

    Congratulations, Mister Zimmerman, on an award as surprising as it is well-deserved.

    1. Very well said–I’m a fan of his mid-70s period too. His ’74 live album with the Band, “Before the Flood” is a monster of a record.

  21. Early in his career Dylan wrote three break-up songs, two of which became acknowledged classics. (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “It Ain’t Me Babe”).

    A third one fell by the wayside, but I regard it as a neglected masterpiece,
    “I Don’t Believe You”.

    (This is essentially my vote for most underrated Dylan song, which is not the same as best.)

    Lyrics here.

    1. I love I Don’t Believe You. My dad got me Another Side Of Bob Dylan when I was at university and that song is one of the best tunes he wrote.

  22. My favorite albums of his are Bringing it all Back Home and Blonde on Blonde.

    His work with The Band was also excellent. The Basement Tapes is some of his finest work imo.

    Congrats Bob Dylan!

  23. This is certainly an unexpected award. I don’t know anything about Dylan’s music to speak of, though, so I can’t say whether this makes sense.

    However, years ago Dylan was “honoured” by the Apple research guys by naming a programming language after him. I don’t know what became of it; it isn’t used at all today as far as I know.

  24. All along the watchtower (sung by Hendrix) is one of the best songs of all time. That’s probably worth a prize.

    I do find it uninspiring that Dylan is respected by lots of Hollywood actors and actresses and that feels awkward and out of place.

    Innovative rock musicians should be avant grade…people who are followed by only a few, and understood by even fewer. There are exceptions, like Paul and John, but mostly I do not see people hounding over Roger Waters like they do Jay-Z, or swooning over Joni like they do Beyonce.

  25. I don’t know. I’m not really a fan of Dylan, not really of poetry in general (will not go into the reasons for that here, but pseudo-profundity is part of it).
    On the other hand, he is kind of an icon, but I do not see why he’s better than say Cohen or Waits (the ‘suicide poets’), but who am I?
    The best about this particular Nobel ‘literature’ award is that it widens the scope of what literature is. So yes, I support this one.
    Maybe it would open the possibility of awarding the prize to non-fiction writers such as Hitchens (too late for him now) or Dawkins and several others I can think of, but whose ‘general’ oevre is still too small to qualify [another moot point, btw].
    (I mean, I love e.g. VS Naipaul, but I generally get even more pleasure, challenge and satisfaction when reading e.g. Dawkins).

    1. Bertrand Russell won the Lit prize, so I’m pretty sure it’s open to writers of non-fiction. Journalists have also won it, including, I believe, last year.

  26. I read this this morning from Salman Rushdie’s tw*tter account. He thought it was way cool.

    Your grandpa’s cane, it turns into a sword,
    Your grandma prays to pictures that are pasted on a board

  27. Speaking of Al Kooper, I heard an interview with him years ago where he spoke about recording “Like a Rolling Stone.”

    Dylan had invited him to the studio session sort of out of the blue. Kooper, a guitar player (a very, very good guitar player) showed up at the studio with his axe. The late, great blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield (of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band) was already in there warming up. Kooper heard him play a couple of riffs, put his guitar case in the corner before anybody could see it, spotted an empty stool behind the organ and slid in. He said he just kind of fudged his way through the tune.

    During the playback, Dylan liked what he heard and called for the control room to turn up the organ mix. The engineer responded, “Bob, that guy doesn’t even play organ.” Said Bob, “don’t tell me who can play.” And the rest, as they say, is … well, you know what they say.

    1. Here’s an interesting talk with Kooper at some university somewhere. He talks a lot about Blonde on Blonde and gripes about the poeple who wrote the Dylan Encyclopedia. (I ddin’t realize he has an eye disorder, so needs to wear to shades.)

  28. My favourites are “Tangled up in blue” & “Shelter from the Storm”.

    I feel Dylan deserves this. But why now? I fear he has contracted a terminal illness of which very few are aware. Quite often in the UK someone who is knighted or elevated to the peerage pops off shortly afterwards! I hope not.

    I am fairly familiar with the works of Shakespeare and the Bible (KJV) and yet I am sometimes surprised to discover that something someone has said is a direct lift from Shakespeare or the Bible. So it has become with Dylan. Bands redo his songs and many listeners are unaware that they were written by Dylan. I remember hearing “Wagon Wheel” by the country folk group OCMS a couple of years back. Only when I saw the accomapnying notes on Youtube did I realise that the tune and the chorus line were written by Dylan for the film about pat Garrity and Billy the Kid.
    Dylan has become iconic.

        1. Yes, I have heard and liked it. Rucker was also pretty good appearing with OCMS at the Grand Ole Opry (Youtube) I think my favourite OCMS is “Next go round”. Ketch and Willie were a great team then.

  29. The great (though little known) American poet Kenneth Rexroth was raving about the Dylan as early as 1964. I can’t find it on the net anywhere, but he said he spent years in the 1920s with the best jazz musicians in Chicago trying to marry jazz and poetry — and admits he failed. “And now this kid comes out of nowhere and achieves what we couldn’t.”

    I did find this article from ’65
    “I suggest you borrow your kids’ Bob Dylan records and play them over for yourself, listening carefully. This treatment will doubtless give many a conventional parent running and barking fits. Let’s hope it gives the intelligent ones furiously to think.”

  30. Wow. The early comments on this thread are terribly depressing. So many people who just don’t get it, and their lives the poorer for it. Here are some of my favorite verses:

    From My Back Pages:
    In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand at the mongrel dogs who teach
    Fearing not I’d become my enemy in the instant that I preach
    My existence led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow
    Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now
    Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
    Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect
    Good and bad, I defined these terms quite clear, no doubt, somehow
    Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now

    From Chimes of Freedom (really the whole song, but it’s too long to put the whole thing here):
    Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
    We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
    As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
    Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
    Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
    Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
    An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
    An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
    Through the city’s melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
    With faces hidden as the walls were tightening
    As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin’ rain
    Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
    Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
    Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an’ forsakened
    Tolling for the outcast, burnin’ constantly at stake
    An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

    And, of course, from Like a Rolling Stone:
    Ahh you’ve gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely
    But you know you only used to get juiced in it
    Nobody’s ever taught you how to live out on the street
    And now you’re gonna have to get used to it
    You say you’d never compromise
    With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
    He’s not selling any alibis
    As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
    And say “do you want to make a deal?”

    1. Thank you. I was flummoxed by the lack of love, throughout most of this thread, for the very greatest singer-songwriter ever, but didn’t really want to be contrarian, or snippy.

      My “10 favorite Dylan songs” would be a list of two dozen or so, so I’ll spare everyone.

      Even more favorite lyrics, but here’s just two, from possibly my favorite Dylan song of all, “Mississippi”:

      “So many things that we never will undo
      I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too.”

      “Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
      You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.”

      The lyrics to three songs alone, “Mississippi,” “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door,” and “Not Dark Yet” are worth a Nobel–and there are 376 more.

      1. ” but didn’t really want to be contrarian, or snippy.”

        (Speaking as one of those who isn’t a great Dylan fan) – go for it! Everyone’s freely airing their views, yours are just as valid.


  31. But of course Bob Dylan got the literature prize! You’ll agree when you go watch Weird Al’s parody entitled Bob. Like its title,
    this parody is a wonderful collection of palindromes, sung by Al in Dylan style. Admittedly Dylan didn’t write them but he might have and Al’s performance style is homage to him. So maybe Dylan at least shares the prize with Al. Maybe Weird Al should get the music prize????

    1. Weird Al is a very talented guy. He’s got Dylan’s nasal voice almost perfectly there.

      (My favourite of his is ‘Don’t Download This Song’ – which of course I (and probably everybody else) instantly downloaded. I’m sure Weird Al expected exactly that).


      1. Years ago, Weird Al answered a question on his website that was something like “What do you think of Napster?” (This should tell the historically informed about when it was.) His answer was that he was more concerned about people misattributing things than to people “taking his money”. (Of course he also began it with a ‘Well, I can get all the Metallica songs I want!!'” joke …

        And he has to be one of the most talented lyricists ever. For example: “The Sagan Begins” sounds like the odious Star Wars Episode 1 was *meant* to go with that music.

  32. I so disagree with some here. Dylan’s music IS comparable to great novels, and I am a reader, too. I like George Eliot and Milan Kundera and Susan Sontag and Henry James… I am a constant reader. The exuberant poetry of Dylan’s lyrics have been some of the best poetry in my life.

    Favorite songs: “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” — I love Bob’s version, but I love Joan’s version even more. In fact, she has a whole album singing Dylan (“baez sings dylan”)which is fantastic.”Desolation Row” is really good and so is “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (a song Christopher Hitchens praised in one of his essays; he was a Dylan fan).

    1. Yes, I didn’t even mention “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” or ”Desolation Row” in my post above, but they are both off the charts amazing. And yes, Joan Baez’s version of “Sad-Eyed Lady” is, well, it just does not get any better. Gotta mention just one more cover version: “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” by Tom Russell (singing the male roles) and Eliza Gilkyson (singing the female roles).

  33. My ex-wife was at Newport ’65 when Dylan plugged in. She was a little navy brat at the time living on the base in Midtown RI (aka “the city by ‘the City by the Sea'”). Some of the older kids on the base had an extra ticket to the festival and let her tag along that day. She was up on another kid’s shoulders and had a clear view of the place when Dylan kicked off “Like a Rolling Stone.” She says there had been some boos in the crowd when they saw the electric instruments, but that the crowd was mostly won over by the time the song was halfway through.

    Think I’ll call her tonight, let her tell me that story again.

  34. I can’t resist posting the brilliant satire on him, “Do You Sing Any Dylan?” by Eric Bogle:


  35. This is way down in the longest list Jerry posted above, but every time I watch The Last Waltz and get to Dylan and The Band doing Forever Young it brings me to tears.

  36. Don Lemon on CNN mentioned tonight that Dylan won a Nobel Peace Prize.

    (picture me face-palming)

    Although, maybe that would be appropriate …did more for peace than others who have won that award.

  37. I’m an old guy and the lines ..

    Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past
    I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast

    .. always blow me away

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