The Sound Bloom

The Tale of Dylan and the Nobel


Before you accuse Bob Dylan for wrongfully winning Nobel, I want you to take a deeper look at it. I want you to listen to ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, ‘Blood on the Tracks’, ‘Blonde on Blonde’ maybe ‘Bringing It All Back Home’. I want you to absorb his songs his nasal broken voice, absorb his words. And then think. Before that, here’s what I think.

Nobody can refute that Bob Dylan is a genius and songwriter of the every first order and very few, I repeat for emphasis, very few have been able to be as original as he has been. And almost every thinking modern songwriter or writer has been influenced by Dylan. His genius has is in every vein of American culture.

Ranging from societal change to Dadaism to didactic songs, Dylan has tackled almost every genre of lyricism, with immaculate perfection. So, why not give him a fricking a Nobel. Now, many have claimed, surreptitiously, that there is a difference between music and ‘actual’ literature.

Let us put that in perspective. Music, almost all kinds of music consists of a melody and lyrics, words. Now, the latter part can be considered as poetry. No, it doesn’t have to be sung in monotone, like a hammering to be considered as poetry. If Kendrick Lamar and Nas are considered as poets, if James Franco calls himself a poet, why not call Dylan a poet, he rightfully deserves it. Why not call him a poet the very first order? When I say this, I want you to go beyond his ‘Times are – a changin’ and delve into his magnum opus “Highway 61 revisited” or “Blood on the Tracks” and give them a proper listen. Come on; give ‘Desolation Row’ or ‘Tangled Up in Blues’ or ‘Tombstone Blues’ and try to appreciate the ingenuity.

In fact take a look at this:


“Desolation Row”

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row.

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning,
“You belong to Me I Believe.”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place, my friend
You’d better leave.”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row.

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row.

Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row.

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
NOW, he looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row.

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They ARE trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
“Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on the penny whistle
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough

From Desolation Row.
Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains
They’re getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
In a perfect image of a priest
They are spoon-feeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls
“Get outta here if you don’t know”
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row.

At midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row.

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody’s shouting
“Which side are you on?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row.

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the door knob broke
When you asked me how I was doing
Or was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row.


Now, that apparently looks like a surreal Dadaist piece about a town but it goes far beyond. The opening line apparently talks about the lynching of 3 black men at Bob Dylan’s birthplace – Duluth, Minnesota. The Desolation Row, a place based on a real life place in the Mexico border, is the apotheosis is of a town gone mad, albeit fictional featuring a smorgasbord of characters, outright grotesque representations of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. This song will give you a good laugh while compelling you to scour for its meaning.

If not for others, Dylan was the person, the artist who inducted music into literature before artists like Morrissey (another amazing songwriter (no comparisons drawn)) followed suit. He carried the wagon forward by going beyond Beatles’ come ‘ere girl lyrics (again they evolved by drastic measures). So, why the entire hullabaloo about giving Dylan/Zimmerman the Nobel? It’s because they still haven’t figured out that music, if not always can be part of literature. Littérateurs need to take note of this.

Now, let’s take some time aside to appreciate to Dylan’s finest songs and albums. His magnum opus according to me (and I believe many) is ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. Containing the quintessential classic “Like a Rolling Stone” and other lyrical golds like “Tombstone Blues”, “Ballad of a Thin Man” and of course “Desolation Row” this album proved that Dylan was a sedulously innovative poet and also shifted his direction from folksy tunes to rock and blues. Also, it was recorded within a staggeringly short period of time – 6 days I believe.

‘Blonde on Blonde’ is a journey of lyrical psychedelia. ‘Visions of Johanna’ is the absolutely stand out track. It transcends dimensions and time. Another one of my favorites is ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box-Hat’ which is a humorous surreptitious tirade against materialism. Another one of the classics is the quintessential break up album and believe me, it’s better than ‘Rumors’ by Fleetwood Mac.

Many people have been arguing that the Nobel Prize should have gone to somebody less recognized for there are enough awards for musicians. But, considering Dylan’s legacy, he has a really small number of Grammys; I mean just take a look at U2, 22 frickin’ Grammys. Dylan is beyond music, he is beyond tunes, and he is a proper artist, a curator of societal aspects.

Many people are talking about Dylan’s silence. Let’s face it, he’s not one of those chatty ones and by being reticent he has just cemented his reputation as the one who prefers to stay away from the fare.

Many people talk about fairness. Now, the world is rigged to be unfair, to be asymmetric. Heck, nature is. The universe formed for some sort of a dick move (and very very unfair) by time, energy and of course the void. Didn’t Kurt Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace didn’t deserve a Nobel? They did, but things are unfair. I would have killed to see Phillip Roth or Martin Amis receive the Nobel this year. I was really expecting Kip Thorne and Co. to win the Nobel this year but it didn’t happen. Heck, Stephen Hawking doesn’t have a Nobel. But let us respect those who have received it and cherish the fact that music has been finally acknowledged as a part of literature.



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