Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Thoughts on Bob Dylan's Winning the Nobel Prize For Literature

It was pretty much a normal commute this morning as I approached my NJ Transit train in Penn Station at about 7:40.  Out of habit I looked at my iPhone and saw that Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.  I knew that he had been nominated a few times, but had doubts if he would ever win the award.  Can song lyrics be considered literature?  According to the article in the New York Times some people questioned his choice for the award while others praised it.  He is the first musician to win this prestigious award and is in some pretty good company.  Toni Morrison in 1993 was the latest American to win it.

Needless to say I was elated upon hearing the news.  I am thinking are other singer/songwriters or other composers of popular music worthy of the award?  Off the top of my head there is Lennon/McCartney, Paul Simon, Carole King, Leonard Cohen and many others.  I think the Dylan song that demonstrates his ability as a poet is Visions of Johanna recorded in 1966 on Blonde on Blonde.

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin' to be so quiet?
 We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
 And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
 Lights flicker from the opposite loft
 In this room the heat pipes just cough
 The country music station plays soft
 But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
 Just Louise and her lover so entwined
 And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

 In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
 And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train
 We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
 Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane
 Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
 She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
 But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
 That Johanna’s not here
 The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face
 Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place

 Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
 He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
 And when bringing her name up
 He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
 He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
 Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall
 How can I explain?
 Oh, it’s so hard to get on
 And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn

 Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
 Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
 But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
 You can tell by the way she smiles
 See the primitive wallflower freeze
 When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
 Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
 I can’t find my knees”
 Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
 But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

 The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
 Sayin’, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”
 But like Louise always says
 “Ya can’t look at much, can ya man?”
 As she, herself, prepares for him
 And Madonna, she still has not showed
 We see this empty cage now corrode
 Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
 The fiddler, he now steps to the road
 He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
 On the back of the fish truck that loads
 While my conscience explodes
 The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
 And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain
Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music

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