Once I was discussing music with someone and they said something about how late in life they were before they understood that there was more to a song than just the words. I laughed and said that it was even later in life that I realize that words in songs had any meaning beyond how they sounded when sung. In my world view, the voice was just another instrument that was very flexible in the sounds it could produce, a kind of organic synthesizer.
Funny thing, though, as soon as I began to actually pay attention to meaning, Bob Dylan quickly became one of my favorites. Doubly funny, is that for some of his songs, it is the immediate imagery more than the actual meaning that jumps out. Close your eyes and listen to just about anything on “Highway 61 Revisited” and let your imagination run wild. Do you see it? At times it is back to my original thought of the sound of his voice, the individual words, creating its own meaning beyond what the words taken together mean.
There are a few odd things about this singer/songwriter. The 1960s are known for its protest songs, its songs full of meaning, and Bob began it. Sure, other folk singers sang important messages long before he took the stage, but he resonated with a generation more than any other artist.
And then there is his strange imagery, obscure symbolism, deep metaphors and the other poetic tools he used, particularly in some of his music from the mid-60s after he went electric. I can think of no other poet/song writer who allows me to see his subject matter so clearly.
The 20th century saw some great songwriters, from Gershwin and Cole Porter, to Lennon and McCartney and on up to Curt Cobain. These people touched lives of many generations, and yet I feel few had the lyrical impact of Dylan. His words stand out.
I will not argue if he should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’ll leave that for others. But I will say that his long-awaited Nobel Lecture was worth the wait. Have you listened to or read it yet? No? Check it out: “Bob Dylan – Nobel Lecture”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 7 Jun 2017. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2016/dylan-lecture.html>“