My father was a child of the 60s, and used to put me to sleep each night singing “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry” as a lullaby. Well, I ride on a mail train baby, can’t buy a thrill in a low hum, those were the words that laid me peacefully to sleep.
I was raised on Bob Dylan. I am an unabashed fan of the Bard from Hibbing, and so was ecstatic this week when I heard he’d won the Nobel Prize for Literature. While some people thought this was crazy, my father has actually been suggesting this for most of my life . As soon as I was a teenager, I could appreciate the full lyrical beauty of his music and his words. He is a true poet who has chronicled the full American experience and shifted his identity with America’s own mood. He has navigated from a folk singer, singing for justice in the anti-war 1960s, to a more rebellious artistic tone in the experimental 70s, and creating some of his rare forgettable music in the 80s—a decade many in America would like to forget as well—in the midst of fast-paced existential confusion of the 21st century, his response has been to return to an Americana-Blues sound reminding us of a simpler time.
There’s been speculation that the delay in announcing the Literature prize, the Nobel Committee was divided about giving it to Dylan. And indeed many greeted it as a controversial choice claiming Dylan is a musician not a writer, or that his writing was nowhere near as great as that of American novelists like Philip Roth. Like every other 20th century institution, the Nobels are seeking relevance in the 21st century. In this writer’s eyes the Dylan choice is a striking way to show that they understand the ever more medium-less nature of writing. Who else has written so perfectly about loving, longing, loss, and the passage of time? His true place in the Bardic tradition is now cemented for the rest of the world to see.
Like bards before him from Shakespeare to Homer, Dylan defies convention, constantly playing with form, reinventing himself. There will not be another Bob Dylan. He is unique among stars, he is a true independent. He doesn’t care what audiences on his never ending tour want to hear, he rearranges his music with total ease at a whim. He refuses to do even the most obligatory of things, like take a picture with the president of the united states before performing at the White House. You can read that story and many more like it in an excellent round up here. For me and many of my fellow millennials, the reason Dylan connects is because of his originality and independence, and constant willingness to do just what he wants to do.
I had the pleasure of seeing Dylan play his first concert since winning the Nobel Prize at the Desert Trip concert last night—the 13th time I’ve seen him perform—and he seemed in rarer form than ever. While he didn’t say a word from the stage—as is often his custom—he was full of energy and life, perhaps for one moment a man who cares not for recognition, thrilled that the rest of the world has recognized him for his unparalleled gifts. And to all the writers who criticize Dylan and this award, his closing number seemed extremely appropriate, a crooning cover of Cy Coleman’s “Why Try and Change Me Now.”
David Burstein is the CEO & Founder Run for America.