Eight Reasons Why Bob Dylan Is An Incomparable Artist
He won the award for it for literature.
via Flickr user (cc) Check Your Six
Today, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” The choice of Dylan came as a surprise to some because the award has traditionally been given to authors, not songwriters. “Most song lyrics don’t really hold up without the music, and they aren’t supposed to,” the poet Billy Collins told The New York Times. “Bob Dylan is in the two-percent club of songwriters whose lyrics are interesting on the page, even without the harmonica and the guitar and his very distinctive voice. I think he does qualify as poetry.”
In celebration of Dylan winning this prestigious award, here’s GOOD’s eight reasons why he’s an incomparable artist.
1. He Inspired Basically Everyone
Bob Dylan gave The Beatles their first hit of weed, inspiring their transformation from pop craftsmen to revolutionary artists. Dylan was a pivotal performer in pop music’s shift from Tin Pan Alley-style production in favor of singers who performed their own music in their unique voices. Without the musical blueprint created by Dylan, it would be hard to imagine artists such as The Velvet Underground, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty, The Clash or The Grateful Dead.
Here’s John Lennon doing a very good Dylan impression in The Beatles’ “Nowhere Man.”
2. He Doesn’t Care What You Think (But You’ll Come Along Anyway)
Truly great artists are able to stay a step ahead of their audiences and evolve without caring who follows. Dylan did this several times in his career, most notably in 1965, when he released the “Bringing It All Back Home” album featuring electric, rock’n roll arrangements instead the stripped-down folk sound that made him famous. This change inspired rage from the folk community who accused him of selling out.
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Dylan alienated audiences again by releasing a trio of Christian albums. Dylan has also been a polarizing live performer for changing his song arrangements and, over the past decade, he’s drawn criticism for performing in spite of his deteriorating singing voice.
Here’s Dylan fighting back against the folkies who were outraged that he went electric in 1966, calling him “Judas!”
3. His Lyrics Have Changed The English Lexicon
Like Shakespeare, Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde, the words and sayings of a great artist often become so ingrained in culture we forget where they originated. Dylan has a host of lyrics that have become a common part of the English language.
“He not busy being born is busy dying.” — “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (1965)
“To live outside the law, you must be honest.” — “Absolutely Sweet Marie” (1966)
“Don’t criticize what you can’t understand” — “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” (1964)
“When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose” — “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965)
“You don’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows” — “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965)
“I may be the devil or it may be the lord, but you’re gotta serve somebody” — “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1979)
“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
4. He’s Still An Enigma
Dylan has been in the spotlight for nearly 55 years, but still remains as mysterious as when he first caught the public’s attention in the early ‘60s. In a time when social media shows us what most celebrities have for lunch, Dylan rarely does interviews or bothers to explain his work. Even his cryptic autobiography Chronicles: Volume One seemed to raise more questions than it answered about the musician.
5. He’s The Greatest Songwriter Of The Past 100 Years
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Smokey Robinson, Chuck Berry, Brian Wilson, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, and Goffin/King are definitely in the top tier of the greatest songwriters of the modern era. But Bob Dylan brilliantly combined the sounds of Americana with current events, was one of the first songwriters to paint with psychedelic imagery, and wrote a host of hits that became signature songs for other artists (“All Along The Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds, “Make You feel My Love” by Adele, “It Ain’t Me, Babe” by Johnny and June Carter Cash, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Guns ‘n Roses, “The Times They are A-Changin’ ” by Tracy Chapman).
6. He’s Hilarious
Although the world came to know Dylan for his serious protest songs, his catalog is dusted with moments of humor and whimsy. “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” (1965) is a mythical journey mixing Moby Dick, French cuisine, and the founding of America. “I Shall be Free” (1963) tells the story of a woman so mean she “puts my boots in the washing machine.” In 1968, Manfred Mann had a massive hit with Dylan’s “Mighty Quinn” about an Inuit that “you ain’t seen nothing like.”
His interviews were funny, too.
7. His Political Songs Inspired The ‘60s Counter Culture
Dylan caught America’s attention after releasing two monumental hits, “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” (1964) and “Blowin in the Wind,” (1963). These folk songs captured the hearts and minds of Baby Boomers coming of age during the civil rights movement and the burgeoning war in Vietnam. In the early ‘60s, Dylan painted an eerie premonition of nuclear war (“A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”), a damning portrait of American patriotism (“With God n Our Side”), and songs that highlighted the struggle for civil rights (“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “The Death of Emmett Till).
“A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”
“With God On Our Side”
8. He’s Still Making Great Music
Many considered the ‘80s to be Bob Dylan’s lost decade. “I’d been kidding myself, exploiting whatever talent I had beyond breaking point,” he said in 1987. “I’d known it for a while. The previous ten years had left me pretty whitewashed and wasted.” But in the late ‘90s, he reagined his artisitic voice and created a new sound that combined electro blues, rockabilly, traditional ballads, and Americana. His comeback album “Time Out of Mind” (1997) went on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, bolstered by the haunting single “Not Dark Yet.” Dylan would release three more albums universally applauded by critics in the new millennium including “Love and Theft” (2001), “Modern Times” (2006), and “Tempest” (2012).
“Not Dark Yet” (1997)
“Things Have Changed” (2000)
“Thunder on the Mountain” (2009)
“Duquesne Whistle” (2012)
Finally, here’s Dylan showing Donovan how it’s done with a beautiful performance of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”