There's been a lot of discussion about whether or not Dylan should have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I'm firmly in the camp that he is well deserving of the accolade. Here's why.
All of what we consider to be Literature came from the Oral Tradition. Stories like Beowulf, The Odyssey, The Illiad, are the foundations of our language and story. These stories were created with breath and given to the air through a scop or someone like Homer usually accompanied by a Harp or instrument. Dylan is simply an extension of that, therefore, I consider his work Literature.
You can read his lyrics off the page or listen to it with music, both have their individual effect and emphasis on the word. Add a different voice to it, the effect changes. Change the instrumentation, and the meaning/mood will change. One could argue that Dylan's writings are more dynamic than a novel in that regard.
Take Shakespeare and his works as an example. Reading a Shakespeare play is dramatically different from witnessing it. The lines take on different meaning based on individual performances by actors & actresses. Make changes in tone, setting, backdrop, costume, and performers and the play takes on a different meaning and effect for the audience. Change the audience and you'll change the play. Dylan's lyrics can be read from the page for one effect, then performed in many different ways by different people using different instruments; each singular way projects a different interpretation and meaning.
Take, for example, "All Along Watchtower". It can be read one way on the page without any singing or instruments (I read the tone very different than the album version - pleading, desperate); however, listening to his version off of "John Wesley Harding" can impart a different mood and voice (laconic, matter-of-fact). Then, take Hendrix's electrified version and the song takes on a completely different meaning (apocalyptically urgent, intensely fried) . It's great Literature either way and up for endless interpretation.
There is also the argument that a lot of modern Literature, and even some of the writers that were/are also in consideration for the Nobel (Murakami is the most obvious), wouldn't be possible without Dylan's lyrics. His influence both on artists and language is undeniable and, at least in my opinion, larger than any other modern writer.
Dylan's lyrics contain everything great Literature has: story, characters, conflict, theme, and a universal appeal. They can be read off the page, sung to yourself while you walk up a stream, witnessed in concert with thousands of others, performed by anyone, and translated into other languages. Without Dylan's work, the culture of the world and the literary landscape would be without a foundational block that thousands have used in order to create their own art.
You can tell a lot about a person by their favorite Dylan record. If they don't have one, well, I'm not sure you even want to fish with them. I met Justin when I was taking my dog Whitman for a walk and Justin was walking back to his car after an evening of fly fishing on the river. I saw him with a fly rod so I struck up a conversation about the river and the fishing. We quickly discovered that we had a lot of common ground - he teaches writing at the college level, I teach high school English, he likes good music, I do to, and most importantly, we both like to fly fish. We quickly exchanged numbers and set a time to head out to the river in the near future.
He just moved into the area, so I took him to a spot on the Susquehanna that I recently discovered. This is my first season fly fishing for bass and I'm now in full bronze mode. These past few weeks have been terribly hot and humid - horrible weather for trout fishing. In past summers, I would have sulked and been agitated not being able to head out on the water. Realizing that I can have an incredible angling experience right outside of my house has been a gigantic blessing. Instead of driving all over the place looking for spring creeks and limestoners, I've been getting on my bike, riding up the rail-trail along the river, and drifting a crayfish pattern for beautiful bass.
Talk turned to music once we were on the water and Dylan came up. I asked him what his favorite Dylan record was. "Time Out of Mind", he said. "Seriously? Mine too!". Yeah, I know, it's just a record, and really, who cares? But if you don't know that record or why it's one of Dylan's best, then that part of this anecdote will never make sense. Some day I'll do an entire post about the genius of that record. Either way, it's great to meet someone that understands the magnificence of that record. That record is everything that Dylan was meant to do as an artist. It quickly became obvious that we shared a lot of the same interests and that our lives had struck the same chords at some point or another. We hit it off and quickly started catching some really nice bass.
I've lived most of my life within a few miles of this river and only now, in my 33rd rotation around the sun, have I spent a lot of time on it. Enough time to learn its rhythms and seasons. Rightfully so, the Susquehanna gets a lot of bad press. Ask any angler and they'll immediately start talking about how great the bass population USED to be. Ask any concerned citizen and they'll correctly tell you that the river should be listed as impaired and needs a lot of love in order to get it to a healthy, livable, sustainable standard. I agree with all of it. I love this river and it needs our help. However, we often easily get consumed by the negatives and the "what needs to happen..." mentality which can filter our view of the river and keep us from realizing the beauty that is right in front of us. If we don't see the beauty that we have, we'll never be willing to protect the beauty that may be.
Over the past month and half, I've caught a ton of beautiful, healthy looking bass. Only one had a sore on it. I've also caught bass ranging from 8"-16". Justin recently landed a 20" and an 18". It's great to see the bass population seemingly doing well. They've been nailing dark poppers, crayfish patterns, and Clouser minnows; the deadly three when it comes to bass flies for me. If they are healthy and doing well, it also shows that the river has a lot of great things going on. If we don't acknowledge the vibrant ecosystem of the Susquehanna, we'll never care enough to keep it healthy and work to make it better. We aren't only catching really nice bass, but we're seeing a ton of egrets, herons, and bald eagles. Just the other day we stopped fishing to watch two bald eagles circle over use for a few minutes. Their nest must have been close.
It has been a blast discovering this river. For my entire life it's always been in the periphery, but now it's coming into focus and I'm loving what I see. Get out there and enjoy the water.
If we don't acknowledge the vibrant ecosystem of the Susquehanna, we'll never care enough to keep it healthy and work to make it better.
I came across this wonderful article on Angler's Journal this weekend entitled "The Gospel According to Jim". It's an interview of sorts with Jim Harrison, the great writer. When I say interview, I guess I mean it's a recollection of taking the dude fishing in Montana, along with David James Duncan. The article is beautifully written, filled with perceptive descriptions of the fishing and landscape peppered with great insight from Jim. I encourage you to read it.
There is one line in particular that stuck out to me. Jim mentions to the author as they drive by a ramshackle shack that it's saying to us, "...don't let your life become the sloppy leftovers of your work." This is a declaration to all of us, something that we will all need to face at, more than likely, many points during our life. So what's the solution to this? How do we not let our lives become the remains of our work? How do we not let ourselves become handicapped or torn down by our work instead of lifted up and freed by it?
"...don't let your life become the sloppy leftovers of your work." - Jim Harrison
The answer is different for everyone. For me, it's more of a process than an answer - a continuous questioning and reflecting of life, contentment, passions. I like work, I thrive off having a job to do and doing that job well. However, I've found that I need fulfilling work, work that doesn't tear down the cross beams holding me up or rip off the roof that's keeping me sane, work that in some way gives back to me on some level. Good work. I've had plenty of shitty jobs, and in the end, they left me feeling shitty. At the end of those days, my life was simply the sloppy leftovers of whatever motion I was going through. Life became part of the work that I was living.
On the other hand, I've had jobs that, while may be very demanding on some levels, are "good" in my eyes (and that definition of "good" differs with each person). By doing work that is good in my eyes, I find that my life embraces the work instead of becoming the bystander of it. Good work becomes a part of the life that I am living and pushes me to live a fuller life.
The "solution", if there really is one, is an individual finding whereas the problem is a universal one that we all have to face at some point. This is what a great writer does, presents us with a universal problem tied to an image that we all can relate to (a house in disrepair, slowly falling back into the earth), and lets us figure out the "answer" in our own way. A series of koans for us to mull over while engaged in our story.
Sketches & scatterings. Rooted in Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River.