Knocking on Dylan's door
Jyaneswar Laishram *
Who's not excited when awarded the Nobel Prize? The answer is 'Bob Dylan'. How many weeks must Dylan take before he acknowledges the prize? The answer my friend is 'three'. Weird enough of the folk singer-songwriter as he totally went into hush for three long weeks since he was announced this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature—in recognition of his creation of new poetic expressions within the American song tradition—rather refusing to acknowledge that he bagged the prestigious prize, unlike the way many former winners customarily did when they were awarded the valued prize.
On 13 October, the day the prize was announced, Dylan had a gig in Las Vegas during which he mentioned nothing about it. Closure of the gig was marked with a cover version of Frank Sinatra's ever popular Why Try to Change Me Now. After a few days, his official website did upload a plain line reading 'Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature', but removed it soon after appearing barely a week. In turn, Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan became again just plain Bob Dylan.
Why was it happened so? Why Dylan was not happy with the Nobel Prize? Or who or what made him unhappy? Was it those literary fraternity and lousy critics who made Dylan sad, literally calling him an unsuitably selected winner for the global literary prize? When Dylan was not in good mood, literati with negative mind about his prize possession should have maintained silence because Swedish Academy and many were desperately knocking on his door, calling him out from the confinement to acknowledge the literary prize.
It was quite clear in the first place that Dylan didn't want to be a Nobel Laureate. In this, some literati said he shouldn't be because he is not 'a poet of the first order.' A dire statement from novelist Norman Mailer was: "If Dylan is a poet, I'm a basketball player!" Such exasperations might be one of many reasons that deterred Dylan to climb up the Nobel podium. But on the other side, many in the literary world do appreciate the Swedish Academy's unprecedented decision to confer the literary prize on the folk-rock singer-songwriter, terming it the widening of the frontiers of literature.
Dylan's connection to literature is not just an exaggeration or hype. A proven fact is that some of his songs are taught in some well recognised universities as part of English literature programmes. Take an example in a closer proximity - Jamila Milia Islamia in New Delhi is an Indian university which introduced Dylan's Blowing in the Wind in its MA English Programme in 2011. Sara Danius from Swedish Academy said Dylan might be considered by many as a musician, not a writer, but the literary constituents in his lyrics could not be put in a single box.
As long as Dylan is concerned in the literary bracket, he has considered himself neither as a literary agent nor a poet, except his name. He adopted his name 'Dylan' after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman at Minnesota in 1941, he bought his first acoustic guitar at the age of 14 and started performing with some high-school rock and roll bands. Later, he switched to folk music, blended with some essence of rock, and changed his name to 'Bob Dylan'.
Sometime back, at an event in San Francisco, Dylan was once asked by some newspaper people whether he took himself as a singer or a poet. "I think 'a song and dance man!'" was his answer. It was the time when his fame got elevated from being a musician to diverse avatars - spokesman, traditionalist, protester, reformer…and above all, a poet. His songs revolve around one or another divisive element, related to racial prejudice, social turmoil, communal commotion and poverty.
For more than half a century, Dylan has been writing and singing hundreds of songs laden with poetic lyrics. Literary houses, war zones, public protest rallies…his songs found rooms everywhere. Some had used as anthems in the world's historic mass uprisings. His songs Like a Rolling Stone; Times They Are A-Changin'; Subterranean Homesick Blue; Hurricane among others have captured the spirit of rebellion. In Times They Are A-Changin', Dylan delivered a message telling every American parent that 'their sons and daughters are beyond their command.' This song was used as an anthem during the civil right movement and Vietnam War protests in the US in the 60s.
Regardless of being the most influential figure in the contemporary culture, Dylan always received constant flaks from critics, right from the very onset of his career. In a press conference last year, he said that critics have been giving him a hard time from the day one. He is not a media-friendly celeb bundled with a lot of interviews and interactions. In fact, Dylan is said to be having a troubled relationship with the fame attached to his years of success, which unfolded in the mid-1960s in the form of a voice of a generation. So, he is turned out to be someone not so enthralled by reward or award, whether a Nobel or an Academy.
Perhaps Dylan would follow the footstep of John-Paul Sartre who refused the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964 in defense of 'the solitude of the revolutionary of Italian communist leader and revolutionary writer Palmiro Togliatti' who died just a few months before the literary prize programme. But unlike Sartre, Dylan finally broke his silence over the Nobel Prize, after three weeks of hush in closet. He said, "Well, I'm right here! And I'll be at the Nobel Prize ceremony."
Wait and watch! December 10 is the day Nobel Prize winners are invited every year to receive the accolade from King Carl XVI Gustaf at Stockholm. Pray for Dylan being there!
* Jyaneswar Laishram wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at ozzyjane(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on November 9, 2016.
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