October 18, 2016
“Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower/While calypso singers laugh at them/And fishermen hold flowers.” — Bob Dylan
In the blink of a bard’s eye, my tribe became validated and I became more than a bit “giddy.” There’s really no other word for it. My respiratory rhythms channeled one-hand-clapping and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.
It had come out of the radio, therefore, unless it was a “Trumpian” media conspiracy, it must be true. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016 was awarded to Bob Dylan ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’” I kept repeating that sentence over and over. It wouldn’t go away.
All things Dylan have always opened up rather tasty cans of worms and his Nobel is no exception. How does it feel, Bob?
This, if indeed it wasn’t a dream, was truly “out of the box” as they say. Thoughts began spinning out of control. Bob Dylan, who played ParkWest twice and Deer Valley at least thrice, awarded a Nobel in Literature? What could it mean?
Have the shape-shifters in the Swedish Academy expanded the category? Have they had “Visions of Johanna?” Permanent Secretary Sara Danius did give a shout-out to “Blonde on Blonde” during a post-announcement interview in response to where a neophyte might first enter upon this mysterious literary realm.
Not unexpectedly, however, more than a few views opposing the choice began to arrive from many within the traditional poetic, literary and educational communities.
Obviously, to my total glee, this particular jerk of the knee triggered an opening of the cultural conversation as a whole.
I didn’t have to wait long. By early afternoon on the day of the announcement I found myself reading editorial comment questioning why Mr. Dylan had received the nod rather than, say, American prose giants the likes of Thomas Pynchon, Phillip Roth and Cormac McCarthy.
So, as is my wont when luminaries of Wordslinger Nation become part of the conversation, I began raiding bookshelves for relevant plunder. It wasn’t long before I beheld a literary landscape whereby negotiating a trail from the computer to the kitchen required wading through a sea of bound text.
Works by “Dylanographers” and the man himself were the first to get scattered about the available couch, table and floor space. Normally sharing a shelf with the beat prose bunch, this particular isolated and now-inventoried sub-genre appeared rather impressive.
Early and later works by Pynchon soon followed, as did those bearing the names of Roth and McCarthy. Even though all three were contemporaries of his Bobness. When piled alongside the others, Pynchon somehow also took on the trappings of a rock and roll poet.
Roth, whom I came upon while killing time waiting for contraband in Culiacan, Sinaloa, back in the day, has always seemed worthy of a “Lit” Nobel. Then there is McCarthy — what can I say? His deconstructions of sentence architecture to suit often-apocalyptic plotlines turned fiction on its head. Amazing talents, all!
Joining the likes of Toni Morrison would be honor enough, but when you add the names of W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney (I’m Irish) or T. S. Eliot, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel García Márquez, Octavio Paz, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Bellow, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, etc, you can see that Bobby has moved into a rather “heady” neighborhood.
By the way, Dylan has yet to either acknowledge receiving the prize or returned any calls to the Swedish Academy, which is actually about par for the honoree in question. It matters not, however. He is a Nobel Laureate whether or not he attends the “Million Dollar Bash” or gives an acceptance speech. As I recall, Hemingway sent a recording.
My days continue to be taken up reading both “pro” and “con” submissions in a wide variety of periodicals by folks with rather finely honed literary chops their own selves. I couldn’t ask for anything more. All things Dylan have always opened up rather tasty cans of worms and his Nobel is no exception. How does it feel, Bob?
Although I totally “get” the uproar over his selection, myself, I’m ecstatic. Bob Dylan embodies so much of who (I so wanted to write “whom”) I have become culturally. I’m stuck inside of Stockholm with the Memphis blues again.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.