Robert Allen Zimmerman (24th May 1941), better known as Bob Dylan, is a music genius who has caused controversy throughout his career. He was accused of being a sell-out in 1966 when he moved on from his folk-rock roots to more electric rock music with three impressive albums recorded in 14 months: “Bringing It All Back Home“, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde“. These were my introduction to his oeuvre: a fellow student, John Froude, came into the college canteen one day in 1966 in a state of considerable excitement. I was sitting with a couple of friends and John could hardly control himself. He had just heard that his hero Bob Dylan was about to release a new album and he felt we all should look out for it. The album in question turned out to be “Blonde on Blonde“. I bought an import copy as there was always a delay in releasing American albums in the UK at that time. Suffice it to say that I was hooked and immediately bought both “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited“. From then on I bought every Dylan album from “John Wesley Harding” to”Saved“. Then I got bored and stopped buying his albums until 1997’s “Time Out of Mind” and I was on the train again until “Modern Times“, buying all the “Bootleg Series” sets in between. “Tempest” was the last album I bought before selling the major part of my record and CD collection in May 2013. I bought the “Complete Bob Dylan Albums, Volume 1” on USB so I still have ALL his albums up to and including “Tempest“.
I had also bought two books of Dylan‘s lyrics and used them often to check my memory of songs that popped up in my head. I think I bought a paperback copy of “Tarantula” a long time ago, but perhaps my memory serves me wrong. I definitely bought “Chronicles” when it first came out and the six-track CD that went with it. In 2003 I bought Christopher Ricks‘ “Dylan’s Visions of Sin“. An academic’s analysis of Dylan‘s poetry.
I have always seen Dylan as a poet and so, apparently, have many others; including, most recently The Swedish Academy who decided to award the 2016 Nobel prize for literature to Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
I should have been elated. But I wasn’t. I couldn’t make up my mind whether or not it was fair to give a rich American musical the literature prize. After all, he had already been awarded The Polar Prize, which honoured his music AND poetry.
So in my uncertainty as to whether I considered that Dylan should–or should not–have been awarded the Nobel Prize, I returned to Christopher Ricks (now Sir Christopher Ricks, for his services to literature). Ricks (born 18th September 1933) as born in Beckenham, studied at Oxford University and, after military service, became a Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford and later became Professor of English at Bristol University. In 1982 Ricks became King Edward VII Professor of English at Cambridge. Four years later he moved to Boston University and in 2011 became Professor at New College of the Humanities in London. He was knighted in 2009.
Christoper Ricks convinces me not only that Bob Dylan considers himself a great poet but that Ricks also joins him in considering him a great poet who can be read from the printed page or heard via concerts or recordings. So, who am I to disagree. Bob Dylan IS a worthy winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.