Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bob Dylan not a writer?

     In "Why Bob Dylan Shouldn't Have Gotten a Nobel" one "Anna North" opined that Bob Dylan is not a writer.  At least, we think that is what she was arguing but, given the level of coherence, we may wonder if this was the first article ever written in rot-13.

     "Words have meaning," a critiquer might say to Ms. North, "even if yours don't."

      Gerard Ian Lewis could be even less generous.

      Partisans use words like hand grenades.  To Ms. North, they are land mines.  She steps on one almost immediately, speaking about Bob Dylan:

     "He is a wonderful musician..."

      Learning nothing from that catastrophe, she repeats the mistake two paragraphs later:

     "He is great because he is a great musician..."

      No, nor is he being honored for his skill at composing or performing music (despite some lovely instrumentals).  He is being fĂȘted for his songs:  lyrics and music, with special attention to the former.  For reference and contrast, this is a great music performer:

      ...and, within the context of songwriters, this is a great music composer:

      Dylan is neither of those.

     "Yes, it is possible to analyze his lyrics as poetry. But Mr. Dylan’s writing is inseparable from his music."

       Unless one is aiming for paradox or humor, it's rarely a good idea to contradict oneself in consecutive sentences.  At best, this is a distinction without a difference.  If lyrics aren't poetry which of the two modes of speech are they?  Prose?

      "But more than that, awarding the Nobel to a novelist or a poet is a way of affirming that fiction and poetry still matter..."

       ...until and unless the poetry is set to music, we suppose [as the Iliad and Odyssey were].  By this same "reasoning", is Shakespeare's blank verse not poetry or literature because it was presented in theatrical performances?

      "...when the Nobel committee gives the literature prize to a musician, it misses the opportunity to honor a writer."

       Are these two things mutually exclusive?  What did you imagine a song is? 

       Dylan isn't a writer?  Leaving aside his prose and prose poetry efforts, his lyrics weren't written on album sleeves?  They can't be read in any of a thousand web sites by entering the song title and "lyrics" into a search engine?  They aren't studied in universities, among other places?  They haven't already survived for generations?

      "By honoring a musical icon, the committee members may have wanted to bring new cultural currency to the prize and make it feel relevant to a younger generation."

       Younger than what?  Seventy?

       At this point we leave Ms. North to her misadventures with the English language.  It is one thing to step into a mine field, quite another to dance in one.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan's Nobel Peace Prize

Verse is Verse

Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan
      In case you haven't heard, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature.  We would have preferred the more qualified Leonard Cohen but we salute the long overdue recognition of poets.  That's right.  Unless someone wants to argue that rhyming metrical compositions are prose, song lyrics are poetry. 

      The contention that poetry is defined by quality is easy to disprove.  Is "The Tay Bridge Disaster" prose?  Let's face it:  bad poetry exists.  It's not a oxymoron.  In fact, it's everywhere.  Whole institutions and myriad publications are dedicated to the presentation, if not the preservation, of bad poetry.

       And, no, it doesn't matter which is written first, the music or the words.  To wit, the music to this song was composed centuries after the words:

      Meanwhile, the lyrics were not added to this old folk tune until 1971:

      Nor does it matter if the same person is writing both music and lyrics, even if at different times, as was the case with "Suzanne", published as textual verse in 1964/1965 and not performed as a song until 1966 (and not by its author until 1967).


Leonard Cohen
      Anyone who wishes to mention that very few songs rise to the level of literature should check the [.000] batting average of written poetry over the last four decades.  Not one line of text-only verse has penetrated the ranks of the poetry communities themselves, let alone the public at large.  Put simply, every line of poetry--that thing deemed worth remembering verbatim--written in this century is accompanied by music.

      There are books and courses on Cohen's and Dylan's lyrics, but does literature have to be read?  If so, movies and plays are not literature, a thing that most primitive societies could never have produced.  Poetry, a thing which is (with rare exceptions) meant to be performed, could not be considered literature.  Fortunately, most definitions include the specification "work or production".  Thus, if Shakespeare is literature, so is Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Ferron, Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot and, yes, the St. Exuperian John Prine.

      The idea that adding music somehow precludes verse from being considered literature ranks second on the list of ridiculous human notions.  (Right after the 22nd Amendment, of course.)