Should Bob Dylan be Nobel nobility?


By Innes MacKintosh

Earlier this month, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. The move was met with a mixed reaction. Some felt that it was high time Dylan was decorated with such a prestigious accolade; others were of the opinion that the Nobel Prize is novelists’ turf and should not go to a songwriter, however good that songwriter may be.

As a Dylan fan, I’m very happy that he has received one of the highest awards for wordsmiths – and I don’t think anyone would argue that it should have gone to another songwriter.

Some people have said it’s not necessary to decorate Dylan anymore – Leonard Cohen said the award was “like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain”. He’s got a point – giving Dylan the Nobel doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know before.

But I don’t think he’s been given it to educate anyone; he’s been given it to make a point. It deliberately sets him on a higher pedestal than should be possible for a songwriter – a marker for posterity that he was the best there ever was. Although some people have been worried that it will set a precedent for other songwriters to be awarded the Nobel Prize, I genuinely believe that this is a one-off.

Also, since the beginning of time, songwriting has been dismissed as being watered-down literature, a lightweight hobby compared to the finely honed craft of poetry and novel-writing, so it’s about time that it was finally given recognition by a prestigious institution as being equal to literature.

However, is it right that a songwriter can win a literary award, despite only having written three books over the course of his career? Does this mean that novelists should be eligible for Grammys now? I doubt a novelist would consider it their greatest achievement to be awarded Album of the Year.

But that’s the issue, Grammys are simply not as exclusive as the Nobel Prize – Dylan himself has more than ten. There is only one award you can give to the man who has been awarded everything: The Nobel Prize.

Perhaps the Swedish Academy should have created a unique Nobel Prize, only for Bob Dylan. It would still carry the weight of the Nobel title, and as a one-off it would remain exclusive. Dylan’s contribution to culture would be acknowledged by a prestigious literary institution. Novelists could still be commended for their work. Everyone wins.

However, that didn’t happen. But in spite of that, this is still a huge moment for musicians everywhere, Dylan fans or not. In years to come, Dylan’s Nobel Prize will be remembered not as a controversial decision, but as a landmark moment for music – songwriting will (hopefully) be validated as a genuine form of literature, and Dylan will be elevated above the position of a mere songwriter, cementing his place as music’s greatest wordsmith. Despite all of this, Dylan has not returned any calls to the Academy at the time of writing, but it was a good call.

That is, if he turns up to the ceremony.s.src=’’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;