The Literature of Bob Dylan

dylan-bob-Blood on the TracksWhen my father-in-law found out that we had named our eldest daughter Dylan, he asked me, “after the drunk poet or the drugged-out rock star?” I answered both.

In the debate over whether Bob Dylan deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature, I have long been in the camp that has said he does. Artificial distinctions between Literary and Non-Literary works have not made sense to me in a very long time.

As I have written here several times:

The distinction between literary and genre fictions (mysteries, westerns, fantasy, and sci.fi.) is largely an artificial one. Those who still insist on making anachronistic literary distinctions do it for the same reason that all snobs make such declarations, self-aggrandizing assholery.

The only distinctions that can legitimately be made in literature are between good writing and bad writing and good stories and bad stories. When a work of fiction [or poetry or song lyrics] takes hold of your imagination, when the language continually invites you to turn pages [keep listening] the writer has done his or her job. When the book [poem or song] haunts you and you can remember it years and years later, the writer has written a masterpiece.

Bob Dylan has written many masterpieces. Lines and images and stories that stay with us decades after we first hear them. Songs that do what literature is supposed to do, change the way we experience the world.

Some of my own favorite Dylan songs (in no particular order):

  • “I Shall Be Released”
  • “Tangled Up in Blue”
  • “All Along the Watchtower”
  • “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
  • “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
  • “Not Dark Yet”
  • “Gotta Serve Somebody”
  • “Forever Young”
  • “Like a Rolling Stone”
  • “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven”

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