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Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

Was that great global spluttering sound we heard this week the five members of the Nobel literature committee gagging on the lutefisk that is their prize? Or was it the rest of the world guffawing in ecstatic disbelief when they realized that the choice of Bob Dylan as this year’s lit laureate was not a joke. Actually it was a joke, though one about as amusing as cod soaked in lye.

Leave it to the Swedish Academy to wipe away the last gelatinous blob of credibility or interest their annual awards might have retained up until the moment the Dylan announcement was made. To paraphrase Adorno, there can be no Nobel after Kissinger. The war criminal’s 1973 peace prize marked a new nadir of cynicism in the aftermath of his bombing campaign Cambodia.

That same year Marlon Brando declined a far more prestigious, and often more (indirectly) lucrative award—the Oscar—in protest over events at Wounded Knee and the portrayal of Native Americans by Hollywood. It was a promising period of refusal in Tinseltown, though not in Stockholm. Two years earlier George C. Scott had turned down the same statuette for his portrayal of Patton, pointing out straightforwardly that competition between actors, and by extension artists, is a bad thing. Likewise, Sartre didn’t accept his Nobel Prize for literature in 1964, explaining “that the writer must refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution.” Dylan became that long ago, even before he started doing Super Bowl spots. In the past he has pooh-poohed accolades and awards, but like the renegade street artist Banksy when he was nominated for an Oscar for his documentary Exit through the Gift Shop, Dylan appears ready to make another exception in his own case. After all, Dylan has already taken home his Oscar for Things Have Changed, and I seem to remember that Obama handed him some kind of medal a few years back at the White House.

The real symptoms of Stockholm syndrome are these: American warriors from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama get the peace prize, and a pop star is crowned with the lit laurels.

Yet some famous writers cheered the news. Salman Rushdie, who doubtless had harbored hopes of one day being honored by the Swedes, grandiosely tweeted: “From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.” A great choice because now there would be no pressure on the egomaniacal Rushdie to feel like getting that dreamt-of call from Stockholm would elevate him to literary immortality. Joyce Carol Oates’ praise for the “inspired” choice echoed with a similar sentiment. The Academy’s decision was not a slap in the face but a slap on the back to all writers who had previously invested an interest in the prize beyond the considerable cash pay out. Even Philip Roth must have been relieved at the Dylan news since with it the Swedish the Academy sealed its own irrelevance.

The Academy’s deliberations are notoriously secretive. Only when William Golding won the prize in 1983 did one ancient member, a guy named Artur Lundkvist, break the code of silence and lambast the winner as “as a small English phenomenon of no great interest.” Small is one word you can’t use about the phenomenon that is Dylan.

There are five Swedes on the literary committee. This year there were two men in their eighties, and three others, of which one is a woman, all born in the late 1940s. Here’s betting this trio of Baltic Baby Boomers kept plying the two old geezers with schnapps, while they pressed their generation’s case for Dylan for, as they put it in their citation, “creating new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

One of the Boomers on this year’s now-infamous panel is Horace Engdahl, longtime Academy member and its former permanent secretary. In 2007 Engdahl briskly informed the Associate Press that America is “too insular and ignorant to challenge Europe as the center of the literary world.” His revenge on American letters is now complete: Yes to Dylan, means a final and resounding No to Roth, to McCarthy, to DeLillo, and to Pynchon. Yes they’re all men and all novelists, but far more deserving of the prize, if it still carried any meaning for the sustenance of literary culture.

Many writers, public intellectuals, and run-of-the-mill celebrities have already supported the Academy’s decision, arguing that the conception of literature should be expanded. So how about a prize in illiterature that searches out real bards who, like Homer himself, never wrote anything down but only sang and improvised their poetry? The Nobel could also go to authors of elegant Silicon Valley computer code or of New York graffiti. All these forms are valid expressions of human intelligence and creativity, but they are not Literature with a capital L. Is this elitist, vital, time-consuming? Damn right it is! That’s what the prize should be for.

I can sense the Dylan hordes unpacking their slings and lighting their arrows. Yes, lyrics can be literature. Yes, Oxford has anthologized “Desolation Row” and Cambridge has a Companion to him. Yes, plenty of poets and profs, not to mention millions of fans, praise his gift for, and contributions to, the English language. Yes, uniting words and melody is as old as language, maybe even older. Dylan should be praised but not given a Nobel Prize for it all. The market has already recognized his achievements, the world his talents. Nothing new will be discovered or achieved by this award except the self-destruction of the Nobel Prizes’ final iota of integrity.

However dumfounding the Dylan news was, it could have been predicted, especially in the way music, so crucial to many great writers from James Joyce (no Nobel for him) to the above-mentioned Pynchon (no Nobel for him either), has figured in the work of those authors who have received the award. The 2004 winner Elfriede Jelinek’s darkly brilliant and stingingly hilarious dismantling of classical music culture in her novel, The Piano Teacher, presaged a turn towards the popular in both literature and music. That tremendous, provocative book torched the concert hall, highbrow culture, and the misogynistic devils propping it all up.

There was however an echo of that faltering culture in the 2011 award that went to local hero Tomas Tranströmer (not surprisingly the Nobel committee is heavy on hand-outs to fellow Scandinavians) for a dozen slender volumes of crystalline dreamscape poetry. His entire oeuvre weighs about a tenth of Dylan’s collected lyrics packaged in book form.

Like Jelinek, Tranströmer was an avid pianist. One of his most famous poems Allegro, the one cited first by the Nobel committee five years ago, begins: “After a black day, I play Haydn, / and feel a little warmth in my hands.” (Tranströmer would later lose the use of his own right hand.) The fourteen-line poem ends with a vision of transcendent musical architecture and spiritual poise:

The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;

rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.

The rocks roll straight through the house

but every pane of glass is still whole.

This week’s rolling stone has shattered the glass house that was the Nobel Prize in literature.

(David Yearsley is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J.S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at


  1. Jeff Costello October 19, 2016

    I’m with Yearsley here. Born in 1946, the first Boomer year, I’m solidly anti-war,anti-business, believed in the failed promises of the 60’s. And I feel sometimes like a chump, but as a non-Bob Dylan fan, I have been a traitor to my generation.

    • Bruce McEwen October 25, 2016

      Dylan Thomas: “He who seeks rest finds boredom. He who seeks work finds rest.”

      • William Ray October 25, 2016

        Agree on the Billy the Kid sound track reference. Langhorne’s riffs help make it the best uncelebrated sound track in film history. In those days Dylan did not exist to the establishment. Evidently no slouch as a horseman; the way his pony skipped and shifted like a cutting horse showed good instinct for turkey teasing.

        As far as another “genius”, the Shakespeare oeuvre being clearly the work of someone thoroughly at home at court, 100% with you on that notion. The true writer from my study, Edward de Vere, was legendary as the best courtly play actor, playwright, rhymer, sonneteer, swordsman, and lancer of his generation. An actor-director since his youth when his father kept a play company. ‘Yorick’ was originally Will Sommer, his friend and teacher at the Vere castle Hedingham, which still stands and the surrounding folk are proud of it. Had it not been infra dig, his works––predecessors by their similar titles to the later Bard plays––would have been recognized publically as well.

        The way it happened, the moniker Shake-speare on the published title-pages stood for him instead, reflecting his tourney list prowess. Twice he had won best jouster before the queen, at twenty and thirty. She gave him a book with diamond studded leaves/ ‘tables’, a remembered gift in Sonnet 122. His self-portrait at that time is preserved in his dramatic alter ego, Hamlet: “The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,/ The expectancy and rose of the fair state,/ The glass of fashion and the mould of form,/ The observed of all observers.”

        Like other rebels at the height of the power pyramid (Moses, Buddha), de Vere was trouble to the government. His demonstrations of current tyrannies through the removed Histories and Tragedies made him bad news for Elizabeth’s tyrant in charge William Cecil, and de Vere got written out of history. Ironically his family, also in the power structure, used the pseudonymous style prevalent in the time to preserve the works if the writer had to be erased. The First Folio’s dedication is to the Herbert brothers, direct in-laws of Susan Vere, de Vere’s youngest daughter. The Earl of Derby is also preserved in the First Folio, an acrostic running down the actor list, actors he sponsored. Derby was married to de Vere’s eldest daughter Elizabeth. It was a family affair.

        Shakspere of Stratford had died and his name and biography got co-opted for the cover tale. Very convenient name similarity and Shakspere had capitalized on it by stealing play books for profit and saying he was the writer. Bacon had his part too as de Vere’s friend in the School of Night, philosophers studying eternal truth in secret. He planted cues in the works to mislead snoopers after the author identity back to him. He could do it; he was the era’s best cryptographer. That long word in LLL was his invention and self-reference.

        The Shakespeare authorship study has been my avocation since retiring. It is a poignant tale of artistic achievement erased by political expediency right at the beginning of the modern state, the precursor of what later nation states could and will do to maintain power and legitimacy. Institutions last far longer than human lives. I only hope that artistic truth will always outlast the high towers and gaudy pageants of ‘greatness’. The saga of Dylan is heart-warming along that line. Shakespeare Papers has the collected essays on Vere and his time.

        all best, WJ Ray

  2. George Hollister October 20, 2016

    The early educated baby boomers, and the war baby’s as well, were the earliest to emerge thus lead a generation that had not experienced the depression or WW2. This group knows nothing about struggle or hardship. The results speak for themselves. Much art that that is nothing special is elevated to greatness. Music and literature are the same.

    I like Bob Dylan. Always have. But what he writes does not necessarily make sense. And I don’t believe it was intended to. If the Nobel people feel otherwise, they should let BD know.

    • Bruce McEwen October 25, 2016

      Woody Guthrie: “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.”

  3. Bruce McEwen October 21, 2016

    As to Roth, DeLillo, and Pynchon, your nominees, they fall short. Roth gives us nothing but wanker fantasies, DeLillo, his pseudo-psychology for the mainstream (nothing that wasn’t covered in the movie The Graduate), and Pynchon (though he has spawned some fingerling imitators like T. C. Boyle and Tom Robbins) was always obtuse to the point of obscurity in trying to portray the Boomers; and I think that’s what’s at the heart of your aversion to Dylan’s victory: The ascendency of classical music — the reason you so delight in The piano Player — a bunch of Teutonic and Italiano racists for the most part is all classical music amounts to, and therefore it would necessarily be the refuge of your ego, to scurry into those unassailable (where only the well-turned out are welcome; although I used to hand out tickets to the San DIego Symphony to panhandlers, just for shits and giggles) concert halls where symphony orchestras deaden all but the complacent ruling class’s wits: This is wherein your persona as a music critic dwells; it is the object of every wannabe rich boy or girl who ever fell into money, like the silly, asinine pomposity of the title family in Dickens’ Little Dorrit.

    Like Sendahl, your El Freddie Jellybee, writes to an elite selection of choirboys, like yourself, giving them a privileged joy in his dark wit and coruscating insights; Dylan, by comparison, has done as much for practically every literate person in the world.

    Like Hemingway said way back in the early 1920s about the Stockholm boys, they’re far more interested in showing how clever they are in knowing writers nobody else ever heard of. Once in a century or two, however, they pick the obvious influences on world literature. Hell’s bells, they even gave it to Hemingway, the fellow who chided them for their pomposity!

    I’m not talking about the Peace Prize — and why you should bring that irrelevancy to bear on the Dylan question is telling enough, but let it go. The point is, everyone who has ever heard a Dylan song has acknowledged his gift for poetry, first; and his talent to tell a story, next, with as much or more of the same enthusiasm.

  4. LouisBedrock October 22, 2016

    Whatever one might opine about Dylan’s oeuvre, the simple fact is there is a “Before Dylan” and “After Dylan”. Before Dylan, Tin Pan Alley gave us silly banal songs like Rama Lama Ding-Dong. After Dylan, artists began to write their own lyrics and many of them wrote them a lot better than Tin Pan Alley writers.

    “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” are Beatle songs that they wrote before being exposed to Bob Dylan. “Norwegian Wood” and “Nowhere Man” are two examples of Beatle songs that reflect Dylan’s influence.

    BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME and HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED changed popular music, as did BLONDE ON BLONDE.

    I like Wallace Steven’s poetry better than Dylan’s; but how many albums did he sell?

  5. Bruce McEwen October 22, 2016

    I left out Cormac McCarthy, but he would have been an acceptable alternative to Dylan for the Prize. The Road is as pretty a stab at the Ineffable as Sam Beckett’s Worstward Ho! and right up there with Dylan’s The Man In The Long Black Coat, when in comes to grasping the intangible.

    • LouisBedrock October 22, 2016

      “The Road is as pretty a stab at the Ineffable as Sam Beckett’s Worstward Ho! and right up there with Dylan’s The Man In The Long Black Coat, when in comes to grasping the intangible.”

      I would put BLOOD MERIDIAN ahead of THE ROAD as far as ineffability and intangibility. And it gets an “A’ in brutality too.

      • Bruce McEwen October 23, 2016

        Plenty of effigies get stabbed in Blood Meridian and anything the least bit tangible not only grasped but fairly torn asunder. But for all it’s delicate charm and pastel color, I don’t recall as it went anywhere, except down the corridors of history to Northern Mexico and back; whereas The Road goes, like our friend JHK, into the dark a brooding future with a bracing and cheery optimism that all will be well that ends well, no matter what.

  6. William Ray October 22, 2016

    There is a cliche, if a poet lives long enough, he will outlive his critics. Not that widespread recognition is a higher value of life. Some do get touched with the fame fate and Dylan knew from childhood he would be big. He just had to get there and deserve it.

    On the matter of the Academy’s literary propriety in awarding him the Nobel, there does seem to be some justice to cite Dylan’s mercurial flashes of imagery, since they have penetrated and emotionally aided world consciousness. And by “world” consciousness, I mean a good many unpublicized countries, populous or small, not just the dominant English speaking territories. They have traveled afar and been welcomed in human fellowship. That should not get lost in the reckoning. A will to give while breath exists shows up as wholly admirable. Such is the function of the bard and balladier.

    Regarding the issue of relative linguistic inferiority or superiority depending on the particular medium, I like to think Dylan has done what only a few major poets have achieved since Chaucer and Shakespeare, rejuvenated the English language, strengthening its integrity thereby. That magnitude of effect can only come from the most sensitive and disciplined of Speakers. Here I should be more specific.

    The distinctive syllabic emphases, the fidelity to iambics which are the basis of English’s inherent musicality rose from Dylan’s essential faith in poetry, that words and their inner music can proceed towards, and approach very close to, truth.

    After all, unassuming truth given song is the tradition of the folk’s verbal art through the centuries.

    That virtually every sound good or bad can be recorded now is novel, unprecedented. This novelty perhaps clouds the reality of that much longer-lasting tradition. But novel capability doesn’t affect the more important point that a certain representative expression arises in every era. No one has faulted Bobby Burns because his verse united to song in the so-called Romantic era. It was intrinsic to his universality and his individuality. The lyrics lasted 150 years before they waned from human consciousness. Dylan’s ‘Highlands’ is a tribute to his spirit. He accepted an honorary doctorate from St. Andrews because Burns went there. The lineage may be obscure and symbolical, but it can be discerned.

    Like Burns and Dylan, the now nameless far poorer bards were likewise touched by fate of singers. Their language absorbed the anguishes of personal insight, which eventually became broad knowledge. Breath became song. That’s acceptable literature.

    So I don’t necessarily go for “high” literature advocacy bitching and moaning civilization is going to hell because the eternal substance of common song got clumsy recognition from the tuxedo set.

    Of course simultaneously there is an irony, dynamite money extolling art. Excuse me, that particular irreconcilable contradiction is bare-ass to the world. The political question is, should a poet of the people dress up for the high and mighty and thereby get subsumed into an elitist courtliness. That is an individual existential decision each artist who is awarded such a prize must make. It sure isn’t any of my business.

    • Bruce McEwen October 23, 2016

      Only Jacques Derrida’s cat* knows weather to excuse the bare-ass poet who failed to dress up and get subsumed for the Prize.

      Maybe you’d feel more comfortable if Dylan wore Carharts and a hoody, instead of a tux, eh?

      Even without the Nobel Prize, Dylan’s ego wall would still be more impressive than any other poet’s in the history of the world — please correct me if you think of anyone else who has been presented with so many honorary degrees, Art’s & Letters lauds, national and international laurels and suchlike…

      *The father of the postmodern deconstructionists was startled and embarrassed when his cat saw him naked: Derrida said the cat reflected his image back at him (in a less-than-flattering way, we may safely suppose).

  7. William Ray October 23, 2016

    I wasn’t expecting a quarrel to follow from my remarks, but since you put out the ‘clothes make the man’ argument, who cares about Derrida’s cat and Derrida’s cute anecdote about human appearances? Martin Luther King (who got a couple hundred such awards and citations, far more than Dylan will) went to the Nobel ceremony wearing full formal dress, tails and ascot, indicating his agreement with the tradition of what was proper form in the European style, and conveying his tacit acceptance into its ranks. At the very same time, his Nobel Peace Prize was irrelevant to his calling as it would be to any man of action. Except for the amount of money, which he probably had never gotten before, the award was a nice gesture from those representing respectability and power (having rather recently surrendered their colonial rights of human exploitation). Just as gestural and symbolic was the award to Dylan. Different magnitude, different level. As far as Dylan’s ‘ego wall’, a term I take to mean arrogance here there and everywhere, again, none of my concern. There are two careers for the famous, the work or mission itself, and the challenge of being famous and not having that diminish the work process. Evidently he has had his ways of protecting it and himself as an integral necessity of the artistic effort. My old buddy Glenwood Wagner said something along that line when I asked him how he got within thirty yards of a buck in order to shoot an arrow through his heart, “You gotta be tough.” Thanks for the comment.

  8. Bruce McEwen October 23, 2016

    The poetry of MLK’s How Long speech notwithstanding, I challenged you to name a ‘poet’ with more academic recognition than Dylan — and, as I pointed out to the author of the article, this is about the Lit Prize, not the Peace Prize.

    You may take ‘ego wall’ any way you please, Mr. Ray, but I hardly meant it to belittle the trophies in your hero Mr. Wagner’s man cave.

    However, what a thoroughly good sport you are to engage in a difference of opinion like this one without loosing you equanimity!

  9. William Ray October 23, 2016

    In response to Mr. McEwen, I think I am following you now and will quote the paragraph in question: “Even without the Nobel Prize, Dylan’s ego wall would still be more impressive than any other poet’s in the history of the world — please correct me if you think of anyone else who has been presented with so many honorary degrees, Art’s & Letters lauds, national and international laurels and suchlike…”

    You challenged the reader to state what poet has a bigger trophy case or in your phrase an “ego wall”, and I came back with Martin Luther King’s awards, etc., relying on the “anyone else” identification as a springboard for my remark. To reply to your particular question about his public awards vis a vis any other POET, maybe I am out of my depth here, but I am not aware that Bob Dylan had ANY recognition or expressed respect among the properly credentialed poetry or academic community. He did get an honorary degree from Yale, producing the memorable line that the college “smelled like a tomb”.

    So far as I have observed, it is only via the ‘underground’, existing throughout the course of our (postwar-born) lifetimes, i.e., the broad mass consciousness), that appreciative affection for his phrasing, sincere intent, and universality of subject matter have more or less forced a begrudged respect in the upper realms of elite culture. True there were high visibility Presidential arts and letters type photo spots. The first appearance seemed to be basically for his mother’s sake, as she attended that White House ceremony. This latest, the Medal of Freedom, one not strictly academic, was perhaps equally prestigious, honor for an estimable body of work by an American son.

    So to answer directly who out-did Dylan at the poetry/literary awards level–– just as examples, I will point to Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Saul Bellow, Charles Reznikoff, generally mainstream citizens who became iconic. Their respective cumulative cultural impact showed up on the accolade scale, awards reserved for the ‘greatest of their time’ or the equivalent in critical prose.

    Personally I ‘rate the great’ more humbly: whether I am moved to memorize their language and in an essential way make it my own. In other words, when we learn the poem (or song), their spirit lives on in an open ended succession of humbler voices which are absorbed in turn by those who receive the descending echoes. In my sensibility these were Shakespeare, Whitman, Housman, Kenneth Patchen, yes Dylan, and here’s a curve, Abraham Lincoln. After reading Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’, his style took on a new passion and inspired poetic flow, aided by the principles of Greek rhetoric he had studied assiduously. The Gettysburg Address though written in prose reaches the power and profundity of great verse. Ironically, and contrary to his own words (“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here.”), his 272 words have transcended their first and only purpose, an elegy for the fallen Union dead.

    A good subject for discussion. Sartre and Beckett also had no use for the Nobel and its existential ramifications upon the recipient.

    • Bruce McEwen October 23, 2016

      God love a duck, Wm. Ray, you are my particular hero!

      You stand up and defend your views!

      A trifle windy (your critics may hiss behind your back), but goodness — GOODNESS! — what a refreshment from the one-liners on Twitter & fecesbook!

      Go back 20-odd years to when Dylan won the Kennedy Center Award along with the NRA’s hero (Charlie Heston) and yours (Greg Peck).

      This was Dylan’s blue jeans to white tie & tails period. Looking back another decade to the forgetable night he ascended the stage in gay Paris to have the burghers of Calais hang the gaudy old albatross of European Devotion round his neck — that’s when the Gala Ball started rolling in Bob’s direction — but there were antecedents, I vaguely recall.

      Again, correct me if I’m sadly mistaken.

      • William Ray October 23, 2016

        Don’t see no poet accolades there pard. I don’t think you’re going to meet your claim of more poetry awards than any other poet in history. Possibly because petty categories don’t mean that much to the creative soul. Those you mention seem to be cultural bows, the best the given group could muster to say thanks for doing what none of us has or will do, renew bardic speech every ear can hear. The high priests and eminences were and remain strangely mute(d).

        For the record, old Glenwood didn’t feature ‘man cave’ trophies though he was warmly recognized as the best hunter and fisherman in this part of the country in his time. He kept one. His family gave it to me because I saved his life. The good of the earth have their own rules for issuing awards.

        I kind of think Dylan’s sympathies run in that general direction, if I read his words right: “May you always do for others and let others do for you.” An admirably succinct extension of the vagabond Christ’s idea that it is more blessed to give than receive, but it is still blessed to receive.

        As far as my own lucubrations being toyed about for your amusement, have fun, it’s free; but also recall that scrap of children’s mountain song: “Little gray moth sittin’ on a shelf/ If ye want another verse, just sing it yourself.”

        with good wishes,

        William Ray

        • Bruce McEwen October 24, 2016

          I find I must withdraw from the debate, as my stature has been rendered too puny to compete with a man who has saved a great hunter’s life.

          I could boast that I rescued frere Jacques’ cat from sinking into oblivion, but you’ve already declared you care nothing for that noble animal. So, unless and until some other (perhaps more humane) reader lends me moral support, I concede.

          It has, I must note, been both an honor and a pleasure dueling with you, Sir.

          B. Mc

          • William Ray October 24, 2016

            Likewise. And re the Cat God that still walks the Earth, when our Misha went under the house to die, she dragged herself back at my worried call. Next nightfall I dug her grave. The overhead sky cracked thunder and lightning three times and the shovel fell out of my hands.

  10. Bruce McEwen October 25, 2016

    My quiver’s empty, now, and I broke a thong on my sling by overloading it on that first salvo, alas and alack, but we fought a warm little skirmish in this obscure corner of the great campaign that continues to rage all around us, including a provocative piece in Counterpunch this morning.

    My longbow, made from the branch of a sound Scotts/Irish yew tree, is still strung and I would be glad to arc a few more arrows into those quarters where the din of battle continues unabated; but, nay, I have nary a one…

    Hark! what’s that faint tintinnabulation I hear? Could it be the jingle-jangle of Dylan’s bridle and spurs as he rides away — or doth he come to rally us bravehearts for another assault (or, worse yet, merely Roger McGuinn’s tambourine)–?

  11. William Ray October 25, 2016

    “Could it be the jingle-jangle of Dylan’s bridle and spurs as he rides away — or doth he come to rally us bravehearts for another assault (or, worse yet, merely Roger McGuinn’s tambourine)–?” ––Bruce McEwen

    Heartwarming that Mr. McEwen like the proverbial music lover wishes to restir the fire of song one more time.

    I read that the phrase ‘winning your spurs’ goes back to the knighting ceremony. First the three sword taps on the shoulders, then the waiting armor and horse tack. And it is touching to know that the old world Baltic knights wished to be buried with their beloved horse and silver riding gear, to fly together toward the Sun. In being honored at St. Andrew’s, Dylan caught the last remnant of the paladin knight ceremony.

    Bruce Langhorne’s Turkish drum, very broad, flat, with little perimeter bells, was the “tambourine” played in an all night session way back when. It resembles the Irish bodhran, both of them huge in comparison to the hand tambourine, and putting out that heart pulse resonance everybody knows within.

    A stanza in the song seems prophetic: “I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade/ Into my own parade/ Else your dancing spin my way/ I promise to go wandering.” If that was indeed the line, he kept his promise. In the followed fifty years, 1965-2015 at 200 shows a year world-wide, he was some kind of traveling troubadour. When I drive as far as Ukiah, it takes a day to recover.

    To a good Autumn,

    William Ray

    • Bruce McEwen October 25, 2016

      I was thinking more of the instrumental intro to Sam Peckinpah’s movie Pat Garret & Billy The Kid; but your interpretation is certainly more apropos, Mr. Ray, and the next time you venture into town I would be more than honored to stand you a drink — if you can compose a toast between now and then, it should prove a MOST delightful occasion!

      This objection to Dylan’s Prize reminds me of the old quarrel about Shakespeare’s authenticity as to having written his plays; opposed to the proposed author of those plays, Sir (Frank) Bacon. To wit, only somebody who’d been at court — certainly not a lowly actor (in this case read songster) could so eloquently depict the beauty of the human drama.

      But I think stagecraft adds to literary competence — Bill Shakespeare was handier with a rapier than many of the king’s men — and in the old days, at least, I think Dylan could have ridden his contemporary peers to ground (horseback, that is).

      What I’m getting at is literature, in the form of books, is scarcely the thing, old boy; not the thing, at all. Until they’re made into movies, nobody ever heard of ’em! So, plainly, “literature” is no longer (hasn’t been for ages) about books.

      Looks like we’re gonna be blessed with a little more rain..

  12. William Ray October 26, 2016

    Agree on the Billy the Kid soundtrack, the best unacknowledged film score in movie history.

    Also that the pedaled tale of instant backwoods genius producing the Shakespeare canon, albeit with total familiarity at the highest levels of state power, is a shuck. I have enjoyed the last ten years studying the authorship issue since retiring. For the curious the collected essays are at Shakespeare Papers. Bacon was instrumental in the play collection (First Folio), though not in its writing. He incorporated some red herrings to throw off snoopers after the true author, a high noble who indeed shook a spear. Edward de Vere twice won the Queen’s jousting tourney list, was recognized as one of his class’s finest swordsmen, as well as its outstanding rhymer, sonneteer, dancer, linguist, playwright, actor, and rhetorician. Unfortunately his affair with Elizabeth the “Virgin Queen” required him to be written out of English state history. But his family and in-laws, the Herbert brothers (to whom the First Folio is dedicated) saved the literature, the foundational narrative of the modern English state. Poor Shakspere’s name got co-opted in the deed being so close to de Vere’s pseudonym. Posterity had to have an appropriate story, harmless to State power and prestige. To paraphrase Dylan, “Genghis Khan and his brother Don/ Could not keep on keeping on/ Built a bridge but the river was gone/ You ain’t going nowhere.”

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