Since the startling announcement that Bob Dylan was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, there have been a few dissenting arguments, like this one and this one.
As far as I can tell the case against a Nobel for Dylan is twofold—on the one hand, that there are writers who’ve been laboring in obscurity, sometimes in developing countries, that could use the exposure and the money more, and on the other hand that he’s not a writer, he’s a lyricist, and the power of his writing is inseparable from its musical context.
I can sort of see the former argument, I suppose. But I’m still glad that Dylan won, because I’m thinking of all the scoffing and eye-rolling I received in my twenties when I gushed about him as one of the great 20th-Century American poets. For me, it’s not an acknowledged elder statesman of American pop culture being gratuitously honored, it’s the goofy, wise-assed, frizzy-haired kid with the braying-goat voice from half a century ago being vindicated, along with everybody who could hear something dazzling and beautiful in his haywire words and cadences.
As to the second argument, though—lyricists aren’t writers? Really? W.S. Gilbert wasn’t a writer? George M. Cohan wasn’t a writer? Irving Berlin and Cole Porter? Woody Guthrie? Frank Loesser? Sheldon Harnick? Tom Lehrer? Johnny Cash? Jacques Brel? Smokey Robinson? Leonard Cohen? Neil Diamond? Carole King? Merle Haggard? Bill Withers? Judy Collins? Stephen Sondheim? Bob Gaudio? Frank Zappa? Billy Joel? Lyle Lovett? Ice-T?
If Dylan, or anyone else on that list, or any of three hundred others that could be named, don't qualify as writers, than I guess I’d rather not be a writer. I’d rather be whatever it is that they are.