When I say “we”, I am, of course, referring to the editorial “we” or “the royal” we. I mean “we” as a generation. As a force of society. I remember when I was in high school, I had an English teacher in senior year who was very demanding. I wrote my senior paper on the poetry of rock and roll and remember quoting Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, James Taylor among others. I got an “A” on the paper but I remember my teacher, Sister DeNeri (Catholic High School) commenting that my premise was interesting but the lyrical quality of rock and roll songs would never rise to the level of poetry. That was 1979. I would like to see Sr. DeNeri today to get her reaction to Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Boo Yah! We have arrived!
The significance of Dylan being raised to the level of fellow laureates like Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, Pearl S. Buck, William Faulkner, Earnest Hemingway, John Steinbeck among other literary luminaries cannot be understated. It is a testament to the power of song to transform society, a vindication of a generation.
Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor and philanthropist and was a controversial figure in his time because of his invention of dynamite. He was called “the merchant of death” and was a man vilified by many. In 1888, he was mistakenly reported as dead and was saddened by the obituary written about him. He was determined to shape his legacy more positively and upon his actual death in 1896 left the bulk of his estate to the Foundation that bears his name. The Nobel Prizes are awarded annually in five disciplines, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace. The awards have been bestowed since 1901 and is arguably the most prestigious award one can win.
Just the fact that the committee would consider Dylan in the conversation is probably honor enough but for him to be awarded the prize is a milestone of historical significance. For generations to come, the late 20th century rock and roll movement will now have to be taken seriously and be studied and viewed as a movement of cultural and historical significance.
I must admit, there is good and bad associated with this landmark award. The good is the fact that rock and roll as an art form is now a serious endeavor worthy of academic investigation. The bad is that “we” are now the establishment.