Bob Dylan became the first musician to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. Dylan, best known for his career as a songwriter, had his start singing protest songs in Greenwich Village. His lyrics and songwriting style set him apart from his contemporaries in shaping American music. Prior to winning this prestigious award, Dylan was awarded numerous honors, including Academy and Golden Globe awards, being inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and winning the Pulitzer Prize.
Emma Murphy, a sophomore Business and Technology major, describes Bob Dylan as “one of the greatest poets of all time.” She adds, “While his lyrics are so extraordinary, there is also a simplicity that allows everyone to connect and find meaning [within his music].”
However mainstream Dylan’s work may be, “My favorite song is ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’” Emma says. “Each song has music that warms and cools your soul. This song is no exception, but it’s his poetry that rocks me. While the song is about someone facing so much adversity, it’s wrapped up in acceptance.” Dylan’s lyrics, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose / You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal,” are poetry that have the power to connect with listeners. Emma adds, “You can pull smiles or sighs out of anything he [Dylan] designs.”
Kaitlyn Zak, a sophomore Chemical Engineering major and music enthusiast, recounts instances when a friend would listen to someone’s cover of a Bob Dylan song and not know that it was originally written and sung by him. Kaitlyn explains, “Bob Dylan is everywhere.” She adds, “His newly awarded Nobel Prize in Literature is well-deserved and shows how much of an influence he has had on the musical world. In short, Bob Dylan is a badass.”
In light of this award, Dylan is now being viewed as a poet. The question then becomes whether song lyrics can have the same value as other literary forms, like poetry or novels. So what is the difference between song lyrics and poetry?
Kaitlyn believes that, “song lyrics and poetry are one and the same. Lyrics are a form of poetic expression, which is something that Bob Dylan has definitely mastered.” She adds, “His lyrics bring his music to life.”
Emma agrees that there are many similarities between lyrics and poetry; however when examining Mr. Dylan’s work in particular, there is one key difference that separates his lyrics from written poetry: His voice. Bob Dylan’s lyrics and melody convey the intense emotions in his songs. Emma explains, “If his words were just read, one would have to imagine the flow, when the words pick up power, and when they slow down. [Bob] Dylan leads that for us which is an art form all on its own.”
She adds, “I love reading poetry, but sometimes having that help gives me a deeper connection with the artist causing a longer bond. He has obviously been able to create this bond with so many people over so many years.”
When most of us think of song lyrics, we think of the music that goes along with it. However, Dylan, unlike most songwriters, “is in the 2 percent club of songwriters whose lyrics are interesting on the page even without the harmonica and the guitar and his very distinctive voice,” according to Billy Collins, the former United States Poet Laureate for the New York Times.
This historic achievement also challenges our views of distinguishing between art forms and bridging the gap between literature and music. Hence, the definition of literature seems to have expanded since Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win.
Kaitlyn says, “Music and literature are some of the best forms of self-expression. The connections that music makes between people are amazing. It brings common ground between everyone.”
Emma emphasizes the importance of music in her life. She states, “I stand at a very biased point of view where music means everything to me. It is the gasoline to my career, my love, my hate, my pain, and my every action. Everything I do comes out in my own lyrics when I write songs but I can also find everything I’m feeling in the music others make. Music is an outlet for emotions and creativity. Some people paint, act, sing, but everyone can listen. It comes in every language, every dialect, [and] every corner of the world. It isn’t just important to me. It may not affect everyone in the same magnitude, but it does impact everyone.”