Knocking on history's door
Samarjit Kambam *
Mama, take this badge off me/
I can't use it anymore /
It's getting' dark, too dark to see/
Feels like I'm knockin' on Heaven's door
Knocking on Heaven's door to Knocking on History's door? Yes, 'The times they are a-changin'. It's polarising. Its deep. And it's bizarre (but not that bizarre to me), yet profound. Ain't it?
A lobby of Swedish Academy out there handing out the Nobel Prize for Literature, critics around thick as thieves citing the development as some autumn time chum with many commenting 'a wrong prize at the wrong guy at the wrong time'. Passionate fans in a cloud-nine frenzy, sweet remarks galore, bitter comments pouring heavily but the Norwegian Nobel Committee has made the right decision, a decision truly justified and Bob Dylan – the man, the guy, the poet, the lover, the singer, the lyricist, the trendsetter, the rebel, the towering icon has the last laugh. Well, winner takes all.
Times of hope? Times of despair? What's time of hope and despair got to do with a Nobel Prize? Barak Obama got the Nobel Prize for Peace during a time which was considered a time of hope. Now, with Trump and Hillary throwing political punches, vitriolic remarks in the political arena with both the Republicans and Democrats in a vague-vague situation, the group of nations of US seems gloomed with despair.
But what is the unfairness in winning a Nobel Prize in Literature by its own citizen? For not being a novelist or a writer? For the time being let's leave the narcissistic and obnoxious Donald Trump who may not triumph or the resilient and pervasive Hillary who in fact has a stiff hill to climb. In fact, Dylan is not a novelist nor a scholar but his works on literature are extraordinary, blowin' in the wind, in fact mind-blowing and like a white dove has sailed many seas.
To the die-hard fans (including myself) Bob Dylan is not just a singer cum lyricist cum poet but a phenomenon, a cannon ball of sort. The world has only one Bob Dylan and no other Bob Dylan will come up in the lineage. Dylan's uniqueness lies in creating new poetic expressions with the great American song tradition.
According to the Swedish Academy, Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature for having created new poetic expressions, his out-of-the-planet song writings, his out-of-the-universe expression of poetism in electric clamour. What more can one ask? What sets him apart from other artists (singers) is that he re-invents himself through his lyrics – lyrics with poetic blend.
The debate over the proper categorisation of Dylan's talent has been going on for more than 50 years. By the time he released "Highway 16 Revisited" in 1965, he was being described not just as a songwriter in the American popular tradition but also a poet in the vein of Whitman and Ginsberg. Any of his song such as "A Hard Rains a Gonna Fall" is more interesting to the listener, both in a literary and social sense than, say, an entire volume of Pulitzer Prize verse by someone like Robert Lowell.
Dylan has made his name in the musical sphere but his work also claimed literary significance. Many attacked him as a 'dilettante', one whose music wavered between bombastic and wacky whose poetic productions mixed platitude with gibberish. He was aligned in his early years with revolutionary politics and later appeared to betray those politics in favour of conservatism and mysticism.
All the same, he became a magnetic figure for younger generations and exerted a vast influence in literature and other art forms. He belongs everywhere, not only in the history of music, one should not confuse him with the genuine masters of that. He became a musician, a poet, a tyrant, a philanthropist within him, his artist's genius compelled him to.
Although Dylan fails to enthuse listeners with some of his songs, his "Simple Twist of Fate" leaves one spellbound. Such is the poetic lyricist-singer greatness in him. The debate over Dylan as recipient of Nobel Prize in Literature will go on for a while, as it should. Chances are, however, that in fifty years, the Swedish Academy has transcended all barriers, its conventional sense and has no reason to be mortified or guilty for according Nobel accolade to Dylan as he needs no introspection, no explanation to who he is.
Dylan has been recognised as an artist who cares about words since the 1960s when he almost immediately earned an adjective as his own literary and musical school: DLYLANSQUE. Here I can pin-point the sensational depiction by Joan Baez in her romantic classic "Diamonds and Rust" where she put Dylan (whom she secretly loved without his knowledge) on the pedestal by referring to him with vocabulary such as, "You are too good with words and in keeping things bare". Such is Dylan's greatness, such is his uniqueness, such is his persona.
As per my opinion, there's no question that Dylan has created a songbook of his own; an e-pluribus Unum of high-flown and down to earth narrative and imagistic erudity. His works are romantic and cutting, devout and iconoclastic, touching and oracular, personal as well as universal, compassionate as well as rebellious and anti-imperialism based. His examples has taught writers of all sorts – not merely poets and novelists but about strategies on both pin-point clarity and anyone's guess for free association of telegraphic brevity and ambiguous kaleidoscope moods.
Dylan has created the theory that music and poetry have a symbiotic relationship and can exist and blend together. He is a towering artist where his polymorphous talents include literary ones – the lyrics are astounding. Mention may be made of songs such as "Tangled Up in Blue", "Cross the Green Mountain" which in itself are sort of novels in a few rhythmic lines where he explored ways of playing games with time, voice and perspective, continuing to expand the possibilities of songs that disarm all possible criticism from any angles.
Many questions galore whether Dylan is the rightful recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Course, he does. Besides being a poet, lyricist, singer in the English speaking tradition, he is a very original sampler. He embodies the tradition for more than five decades and now he's been at it and re-inventing himself constantly, creating himself a new niche and facade. His lyrics always reflect a great message be it in the sphere of love, world peace, harsh reality of poverty, social framework, spiritual themes, devaluation of human values et al.
Listen to "Blonde on Blonde" and you'll find that its an extraordinary piece of classic depicting his brilliant way of rhyming and putting together refrains and pictorial thinking. Even though critics are not too happy with the recent development taking place with him thinking that he hasn't written novels and poetries in the usual sense, he has widened his horizon in his poetry-based lyrics which are a cut above the rest.
After being a Nobel recipient, my appreciation for Dylan is growing manifold. Some of his songs viz, "Who Killed Davey Moore?", "Idiot Wind", "Not Dark Yet', "Highway 61 Revisited", "Ballad of a Thin Man" and of course the all time favourite "Blowing with the Wind" sung by musicians of all hues time and again still lingers inside your head where you find it hard to shed his artistic flavour from his very songs.
Dylan's works inspire us and give us hope. He erected a musical entity, wrote the songs, sang the words that were essential to contemporary times, to the emotional and spiritual survival of so many music lovers. His way of toying with language is profound, playful and instinctive. Like the vast ocean, his poetry-based lyrics will drown you, relish you and cast magic spell in you. His works are more than works of contemporary novelists, poets and lyricists depicting both highbrows and lowbrows.
His fans span from beggars, taxi-drivers, farmers, sweepers, celebrities, scientists, tycoons sports persons to Ivy League academics etc. His songs have meanings to people who heard them in the Woodstock era and to those who heard them during the first Iraq War. He has created the definition of great scholastic work for he himself is a body of high-end scholarly work that's so pliable. Dylan is a humanist.
His lyrics reflect both deep nihilism about the human state of affairs, idealism and human encounters with good and evil one-on-one. Ever since the advent of the nuclear bomb, he has summed up pretty well his perspective on his rebelliousness against such destructive powers that could render earth a lifeless and barren planet.
Bob Dylan is a living legend and as per the opinion of the writer, the decision of the 18 member Swedish Jury granting him the Nobel Prize on Literature is more than highly justified. For those who don't know Bob Dylan or those who find it hard to appreciate his high-end works, I really feel pity for them for they have really missed out on the parts of beautiful lyrics and beautiful songs.
* Samarjit Kambam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at kambamsamarjit0(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on October 23, 2016.
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