Friday, October 14, 2016
Dylan revisited: More thoughts on the Nobel
Following up on yesterday's post and the great news about Bob Dylan, noticing that some of the coverage over the past 24 has emphasized how he broke ranks w/ folk music when he "went electric," but I think that misses the point. He didn't split away from a musical/literary tradition, but he joined traditions, fused them, through a dialectic process created something completely new. As noted yesterday, my friend Mark L said on folk v rock: There's no difference anymore And, as people fight it out as to whether Dylan deserved the literature award because he's not "a writer" - another theme in today's coverage - the point is that the only answer to the questions - is it literature or entertainment? Is it song-writing or is it poetry? - is: There's no difference anymore. Yes, Dylan is part of a long and great tradition of American song-writing; I'm no expert on that but the names Foster, Porter, Berlin, Sondheim come to mind. But there's a difference (and it's similar to the difference between Classical British poetry, through the 18th century, and Romantic poetry and everything thereafter): the great songwriters of the 20th century wrote beautiful songs for others to sing - there was not a sense that the lyrics were a self-expression (of course they were, are - but that's another point) whereas Dylan was the first great songwriter whose songs were his: we can sing them, many have covered them, but they are always above all Dylan songs, his self-expression, much like, say, Keats, the symbolists whom Dylan revered in his youth, even Pound and Eliot, whom he name-checked - yet paradoxically, as is true for all literature, because they are such profound self-expression we identify and empathize: Johanna, Ramona - are, were, might have been women in Dylan's life, but anyone who has ever loved in vain - i.e., everyone - understands those emotions, and that's partly because his writing (and music) has given these emotions and feelings a shape in our lives. His personal expression - like all great art - enables us to understand and express that which has previously been ineffable. Yes, many others - in folk rock, pop, rasta, rap, metal (kinda), lyric, indie, and alt - all popular songwriters today and for the past 40 years or so are in his wake, it's understood and accepted that popular music is in part or at least can be expressive of the artist's unique experience. Art or entertainment, lyrics or poetry - those questions now are beside the point. There's no difference anymore.