He’s the ageing rocker who fans can never get enough of. Singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was bestowed the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday at the Swedish Academy’s headquarters in Sweden. He is the first musician ever to win the award.
Dylan commands the admiration of many music lovers. Some of his songs have become legends. In this feature, we recount the success of his career.
We begin with President Barrack Obama who once gave the United States' top civilian honor to musician Bob Dylan, novelist Toni Morrison and 11 other people whom he described as his heroes because of their powerful words, songs and actions.
"What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people. They have enriched our lives and they have changed our lives for the better," he had said. According to Wendell Rodricks, fashion designer, “The reason why Bob Dylan became such a phenomenon was the appeal of the lyrics and the guitar work. Dylan's patriot songs and his ode to artists and the times he lived in, come straight from the heart. His repertoire resonates with the mood, liberation and nostalgia of a country and people and this is what made him so special.”
Framroz Ghaswala, Graphic art consultant, says, "Dylan's well loved songs are - 'Blowin in the wind' and 'Times are changing'. However Dylan has also got a couple of books of drawings and paintings which is a little known fact about him since people think he is only a performing artist par excellence."
Kailash Surendranath, film maker, has always been a fan of Dylan. He believes Dylan is definitely THE poet of the last century. Kailash knows each of his songs and the chords on guitar, and admires the way lyrics flow through him, meaningful and never forced; always in rhythm and rightly rhyming. There are the old classics that changed the thinking of an entire generation, like Blowin in the wind’, A hard rain's gonna fall (so accurately prophetic of present times), Don't think twice, Knocking on heaven's door, etc. Kailash says, "I personally believe his best work so far is Bloom on the tracks, which is an amazingly apt name for an album of songs that tells so many stories."
One of Atul Bakshi, guitarist and glass artist's, favourite musician of all time is Bob Dylan. Atul informs that throughout Dylan's 40-plus year career, some of the most noticeable changes have come in the style of music, lyrical content, and commitment to touring. Beginning with his first album in 1962, titled simply ‘Bob Dylan’.
Dylan has been a performer of ever-changing styles. From the folk, Dylan has never been content to fit into the mold/style. Early songs, such as The times they are a-changin’ and Masters of War, were nothing more than folk songs presented to an unsuspecting audience. While these were extraordinary folk songs, they were folk songs none the less. Atul adds that a transformation has taken place with Dylan’s lyrics. At the beginning of his career, he wrote lyrics that opposed the great poetry and prose of history. He was able to craft lyrics that spoke to an audience of listener.
In the last several years the lyrics of Dylan’s songs have undergone a certain simplification. The modern lyrics still reflect the enormous talent of their writer. An example of this change can be found in 2000’s song Things have changed. The lines 'People are crazy and times are strange/I’m locked in tight, but I’m out of range/I used to care, but things have changed', are not run-of-the-mill rock lyrics, but Dylan not longer seems as though he is trying to perplex his listeners in addition to entertaining them. Framroz says, "Dylan tours extensively even at his age . . .which would be around 70 and still enjoys a fantastic reputation."
Despite his age Dylan's songs still command attention and admiration. As one grows one sees a different facet. The songs also have a different appeal to different generations. Atul explains, "One of my most favourite songs of Dylan is Blowin in the wind'. Songs such as these have grown with age as myself. Each time, revealing its next set of understanding and meaning. It is like an unfurling of a lotus, meanings change with age. The brilliance of his lyrics has been perplexing for a listener sometimes with awe and sometimes with shock as the kind of hand that fits into a new glove and perfectly each time. He is truly a genius of our times. I feel honored to have lived during his era."
However Dylan does have his share of criticism. Dylan’s word-power distracts from the power of music. His songs are more cerebral and dry in terms of making you sway to the music. Yet there is no denying that it is his voice that brings life to his lyrics. Some feel his lyrics are what make an impact more than his singing. He even won the Pulitzer Prize for the wonderful lyrics of his songs.
In fact he has several achievements to his credit - Grammy Awards, Grammy Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Academy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards. Some are even betting on him for The Nobel Prize for Literature. President Obama's award puts all the criticism aside almost in synch with Dylan's song - The times they are a-changin’. Yes indeed! With so many changes in the world of music, Bob Dylan still commands a great number of admirers and is songs still tug at your heart strings.
By Monarose Sheila Pereira
Monarose Sheila Pereira is a Mumbai based author, journalist and lecturer. She has published 12 books and has written for many newspapers and magazines. Some of her works have been translated into foreign languages. She also conducts self - improvement workshops.