It’s been a weird month for Bob Dylan fans. A couple weeks ago the esteemed Nobel Prize committee announced they were awarding Dylan the prize for literature, a decision let’s remember, that he had nothing to do with. Artists don’t nominate themselves, nor are they made aware of nominations. Actually, there’s a 50 year seal on the whole nomination process. (I hope a reporter in 50 years breaks a story on who nominated Dylan, it’ll probably still be relevant.) So far, Dylan has not responded to or acknowledge the prize or the committee who awarded it in any way.
While I wholeheartedly agree with the estimation that Dylan’s lyrics have expanded the palette and imagination of American literature — he almost singlehandedly brought literary impulse into the songwriting process — I don’t think the Swedish committee were very thorough in their investigation of Dylan’s hierarchy of values if they assumed he would play by their rules. He probably won’t.
Throughout his life, Dylan has refused to comply with what has been expected of him. It’s never been out of rudeness, it seems he’s just been sure of what he does and doesn’t want from a very young age. His parents, who were both second generation Americans, surely expected him to stick around their small tight-knit Jewish community in Minnesota. Instead, he moved to Minneapolis to attend University of Minnesota for only a year, dropped out, and moved to New York to do things like visit an ailing Woody Guthrie. I really wish I knew what his mother’s reaction to that news was.
He quickly built a name for himself as a folk singer and songwriter — mostly because he was really f*cking good at it and no one was writing folk songs this expansive and literary at that time — and landed a record deal. But then, like almost any current folk and acoustic musician who achieves a modicum of success, Dylan infamously abandoned his initial, quieter style in favor of the electric guitar at Newport Folk Festival. Remember — initially, people hated it. They called him “Judas,” betrayer. “Arrogant,” as one committee member called his silence, isn’t too far afield from that insult.