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What To Know About Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize For Literature


Published on October 14th, 2016

It’s rare that when a prize is given to someone, it is the prize that is elevated, not the recipient. That is exactly what has happened with the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. Bob Dylan is an artistic legend who needs no validation – but the Nobel Prize itself has taken a lurch towards relevance.

The first thing to note is that Dylan did not get the prize for his ‘poetry’. Instead, according to the Nobel Prize citation, he got it “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” The Nobel committee did not force-fit his lyrics into an existing category, but accepted that literature exists outside the conventions typically assigned to it.

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The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to Bob Dylan, who becomes the 113th writer and first musician to win the award.

American music icon receives accolade for literary work


Here’s what you need to know about Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature:

1. He was an outside bet

Names of nominees for all Nobel Prizes must be kept secret until at least 50 years after the Prize has been awarded, but Dylan is thought to have bested competitors including American novelist Don DeLillo, perennial favorite Haruki Murakami, Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o and Syrian poet Adonis. Dylan was seen as having an outside chance, with odds placed at 16/1 when betting closed on Thursday morning.

Bob Dylan, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, from the album ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’, 1963

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2. The award celebrates the entirety of his careerbob-dylan-nobel-prize-v1

“He’s a great poet—a great poet in the English-speaking tradition. For 54 years he’s been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity,” said Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy.

Danius recommended Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album as a starting point for those unfamiliar with Dylan’s work. Although Dylan was an unconventional choice, the panel judged the breadth and depth of Dylan’s songwriting work when awarding the prize. The album, selected as one of TIME’s All-Time 100 Albums, was released in 1966 and described by Dylan himself as a “thin, wild mercury sound.”

3. Much of his early songwriting was inspired by the Beat Generation

In the early 1960s, as a young man, Dylan was influenced by the Beat Generation and was inspired by the work of Jack Kerouac. After moving to New York in 1961, he met the poet Allen Ginsberg at a party and became good friends with him. Ginsberg acted as a mentor and collaborated with Dylan on an ambitious album called Holy Soul Jelly Roll.

‘Masters Of War’, a harsh invective against the military-industrial complex from 1963’s ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’, remains one of the most powerful protest songs ever written. The music and lyrics first appeared on the February 1963 cover of Broadside magazine.

4. His work has spanned music, art and literature

Although best known for being a record-breaking musician, Dylan’s work has also spread into the art and literature worlds. He has written six books, including three compilations of his song lyrics and a collection of poetry entitled Tarantula that was written in a similar stream-of-consciousness style to the icons of the Beat Generation.

10 Things You Never Knew About Bob Dylan

Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. He legally changed his name in 1962, and while most assume his name alludes to poet Dylan Thomas, there’s a theory it might be inspired by Green Bay Packers legend Bobby Dan Dillon.

Dylan signed to Columbia Records at the age of 20. That meant he was legally a minor and needed his parents to sign the contract, too. For whatever reason, he didn’t want that, so convinced John Hammond that he was an orphan so they didn’t have to sign.

‘Masters Of War’, a harsh invective against the military-industrial complex from 1963’s ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’, remains one of the most powerful protest songs ever written. The music and lyrics first appeared on the February 1963 cover of Broadside magazine.

Written in 1965, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ has long been considered one of the greatest and most influential songs in modern music. Accounts vary, but before they were edited down to what you hear, Dylan’s original lyrics were between six and 20 pages long.

It was Dylan who first introduced The Beatles to marijuana, on August 28, 1964 at New York’s Delmonico Hotel. Paul McCartney thought the experience so profound he asked road manager Mal Evans to note down everything that happened. The notebooks were later confiscated by police.

Dylan has never had a number one single on the Billboard chart. The closest he’s come is ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, which both reached number two in 1965 and 1966 respectively. The Byrds’s cover of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ did hit the top spot, though.

When Dylan first started playing electric, in 1965, it elicited an angry reaction from his fans, including the infamous “Judas” moment in Manchester. But in his 1959 school yearbook, he claimed his ambition was “To join Little Richard”.

Dylan was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988, by Bruce Springsteen. When he makes his acceptance speech, Dylan first thanks both Muhammad Ali and Little Richard, then has a slight dig at the Beach Boys’ Mike Love.

In 2004, Dylan appeared in a television ad for sexy lingerie company Victoria’s Secret. ‘Love Sick’, the first song on 1997’s ‘Time Out Of Mind’ album, plays in the background as Dylan’s wandering figure is intercut with images of model Adriana Lima.

He released his 35th studio album, ‘Tempest’, in 2012. As per his records of the last 15 years, the sleeve didn’t contain any printed lyrics. The title-track did, however, include references to James Cameron’s epic 1997 blockbuster, Titanic.

Bob Dylan, ‘Dunquesne Whistle’, from the album ‘Tempest’ (2012)

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Dylan has also published several collections containing his artwork in partnership with major international galleries such as New York’s Gagosian and London’s National Portrait Gallery. His artwork has been exhibited around the world, with pieces ranging from sculpture to drawings and paintings.,,