"The Times They Are a Changin": Bob Dylan awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

Yokhanan John Phaltual *

Some artist words speak for itself; some artist words speak for generations; Bob Dylan- one of America's greatest voice for freedom transcends borders and speaks for all generations.

It was the early 1980s the time and I remember I first heard Bob Dylan's voice listenning to my eldest brother tuning to Dylan's music repeatedly. He was one of the first in our town, Churachandpur, to owned the Four Band Sanyo Stereo Radio Cassette Recorder and just the coolest thing ever for him to listen with friends at nights in the street.

It was probably the first time I discovered emotion in music and I got into this love for Bob Dylan's songs because my brother was so much into it. The spell of Dylan's lyrics cast over me till today.

The announcement on October 13th by the Swedish Nobel Academy that Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition", makes me very happy and absolutely gutted by the great news. What made the selection so remarkable was the crossing of a boundary of genres which to many people seemed unbridgeable. Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, who announced the prize, called Dylan a great poet and compared his works to those of ancient Greek poets Homer and Sappho. A well-deserved honor. It certainly is a prestigious award and there's no question that he deserves it.

Bob Dylan, the 75 -year-old American Jewish singer-songwriter who was born Robert Allen Zimmerman revolutionized contemporary song writing since the 1960s. More than 50 years on, Dylan is still writing songs and is often on tour, performing his dense poetic lyrics, sung in a sometimes rasping nasal voice that has been ridicule by detractors.

His lyrics captured a spirit of rebellion, dissent, independence and have resonated till today. "Blowin' in the Wind", written in 1962 was considered one of the most eloquent folk songs of all time. "The Times they are a Changin", was an anthems of the American Civil Rights movement (1954-1968) and anti-Vietnam war (1954-1975) protests.

Dylan's seminal songs burst the Dwight D.Eisenhower (34th US President) generation's complacency with lyrics full of anger and eloquence. And when he later took on Rock & Roll with -Like a Rollin Stone, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Master of War, Mr.Tambourine Man, Gotta Serve Somebody, Wagon wheel and dozens of other songs with parable-laden, dense wordplay, he indeed turned into a pied- piper for a sea of youth with no direction home. He provided the direction and created a new language of communication that had permeated rock music until today.

Dylan is master of language. His songs are his lexicon and that lexicon he created is why the Nobel Prize board somewhat belatedly has recognized him for his lyrical immensity, one that only comes around once in a generation. His lyrics paved the way for the cerebral songwriters that came after him, such as Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez,the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell, Donovan, the Rolling Stones, Jenis Joplin, Van Morrison, The Band, The Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Bono of U2, Leonard Cohen and the list goes on. There is no systematic way of analyzing his songs/poems and music which span more than five decades of historical context and musical style. He is a storyteller pulling out all the stops- metaphor, allegory, repetition, precise details with his klonox harmonica.

Most of his songs were begun to be written in a period when the American people are yearning for a more open and justice society. The 1960s was a decade of liberation for music, public opinion, rise of racism, counterculture, depression and anti-authoritarian and anti-war movements. He has been affected somehow by various historical events such as the after- shocks of the world wars, improvement of television and radios in society, communism in eastern Europe, assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Cuban missile crisis and Civil Rights movement.

Yet, it is not difficult to find Jewish influences on him. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman (or to give him his Hebrew name: Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham) to a fairly observant Jewish family. Dylan's paternal grandparents, Zigman and Anna Zimmerman, emigrated from Odessa in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine), to the United States following the anti-Semitic pogroms of 1905.

Dylan had a decidedly Jewish upbringing from a small Jewish community of Duluth and Hibbing in Minnesota. Growing up in a kosher home and even attending the religious-Zionist summer camp, Camp Herzl. During the late 1970s, Dylan converted to Christianity but later on he has supported the Chabad Lubavitch movement, and has privately participated in Jewish religious events, including the Bar Mitzvahs of his sons in the Western/Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and attending a Chabad Lubavitch Torah Yeshiva.

So, his songs like "Highway 61 Revisited" irreverently retells the story of the binding of Isaac for sacrifice, "With God on Our Side" is a protest song over the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, "Forever Young" is a poetic rewrite of a father's blessing (birkat banim) over their children at the Shabbat dinner meal, "All Along the Watchtower" best known in its Jimi Hendrix (King of guitar) version is basically a cribbed from the prophet Isaiah 21, "Gotta Serve somebody" the Grammy Award-winning centerpiece alludes to Joshua 24, " Neighborhood Bully" have a Zionist theme ,and " Everything is Broken" is based on the mystic Lurianic( Rabbi Isaac Luria) Kabbalah.

Bob Dylan will receive the prize in Stockholm, the Swedish capital city from the the Swedish Royal Academy on December 10. The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901, which is Alfred Nobel's birthday, for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will. Dylan has previously won 11 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2012 US President Barack Obama awarded Bob Dylan with a Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in a White House ceremony. "Bob's voice, with its weight, its unique gravely power, was redefining not just what music sounded like, but the message it carried and how it made people feel," Obama( big fan of Dylan) said of the legendary singer-songwriter.

Fifty years on and still on the roll with 522 plus songs. His latest album record "Fallen Angels" released in May 2016 by Columbia Records is the thirty-seventh studio album by Bob Dylan. The 'Never Ending Tour', the popular name for Bob Dylan's endless touring schedule since June 1988 moves on in the US and abroad. The 2016 tour (part of his Never Ending Tour) comprises seventy-five concerts, including the musical festival in Indio, California called the 'Desert Trip'.

In the music carnival featuring performers from the 1960s and 1970s, Dylan shared the stage with the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney of Beatles, Neil Young, Pink Floyd and the Who. Many saw the Desert Trip as the greatest rock music gathering since Woodstock, the legendary 1969 open-sky concert in a firm in New York city. Hie last leg of this year will end on November 23, at Fort Lauderdale near Miami in Florida.

Bob Dylan's songs are uniquely timeless and certainly our lifetime's greatest poets. I see on him a spark of my own reflection. This 'Mr Tambourine Man' endlessly fascinate me. The songs are 'Forever Young' and nothing is 'Not Dark Yet' as I feel I'm 'Like a Rollin Stone' on the ' Highway 61 Revisited'.

Mazal tov! Bob Dylan. The Nobel Prize, there is no question about it.

* Yokhanan John Phaltual wrote this article for
The writer can be reached at yochananyy(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on November 03, 2016.

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