October 17, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Bob Dylan, this deeply gifted soul, poetically defined lives and direction so far back. Fan or not, we might hear again what he had to say, especially in this world and nation nearly gone mad. He did warn.
Garnering the Nobel Prize for Literature should be no surprise despite the controversy over the award since his lyrics have usually been poetic, descriptive, emotion-tugging and prophetic. The best of our writers — on paper, in lyrics — are those who hear our rhythm before we do and then play it for us. That Dylan has also accompanied his telling lyrics with melody has not only been a bonus but emotional reinforcement. A song lingers — it can tug you toward your soul and back again when there is need.
So, there is literature here, though not everyone sees it that way, and some would have the prestigious Nobel go to traditional writers only, not songsters. That is an argument, even if Bob Dylan spoke from depth.
Those who write well, who are the poets of a time, usually have mentors, and for Dylan initially it was Woody Guthrie, the social realism singer/writer, and Hank Williams, the country music great who
played into emotion as if he were singing his lyrics in the key of humanity, which he was. Other heroes were to appear for Dylan as his own verbal maturity and ability to touch people grew while the world pushed itself in so many directions, many disturbing, many lingering still, many worse.
Bob Dylan’s time, the 1960s-on, coincided with the resurgence of folk music, but that relative innocence, however beautifully played, was quickly overwhelmed by the death of young and promising John F. Kennedy, growing youthful disillusionment and ever-deeper disconnect with the Vietnam War. It was no accident that Dylan went to acoustic guitar at the now-famous 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, leaving folk singing’s strumming ways. The world was changing, as Dylan told us in the 1964 “The Times They Are a-Changing’ “. It was now the moment for amplification.
Disillusionment, a disconnect, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, crooks in government, trickle-down economics with a closed faucet, special interests with octopus tentacles everywhere, September 11, terrorism, wars, wars and now a presidential election more like a TV reality show — all somehow seem predictive in Bob Dylan’s lyrics or in the thinking/writing/reaction he spotlighted through his work.
So few listened even for argument’s sake.
Now, no writer can be appointed chief guru, an omnipotent. But a good writer fosters discussion even if you do not like the messenger or what he or she says.
Dylan has surely done that. Consider what he lyricized in “The Times They Are a-Changing:”
“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no telling who that it’s naming
For the loser now will be later to win
Cause the times they are a-changing.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s the battle outside raging
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changing.”
Such words are literature of note.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org This essay may be reproduced.