There has never been anything quite like a Bob Dylan lyric. Some pierce their targets like lasers. Some confound us with inscrutable words and surreal images. Some haunt us, with their anger, their love, their insight, their exhortation.
The Swedish Academy recognized that yesterday in giving Dylan the Nobel Prize for literature. The award to a musician was history-making, but it could have been bestowed at any point in the last 20 years, give or take a decade. So why now? Why did it feel so right this year? Why did so many of us smile so broadly when we heard the news?
Perhaps it’s because of how relevant Dylan still is and how prescient he was about America, its culture and its politics. Faith in our institutions is plummeting, but 50 years ago Dylan shredded hypocrisy in education, religion and politics in “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” Long before gridlock gripped Washington, Dylan implored senators and representatives, “Don’t stand in the doorway and block up the hall.” And his poignant Vietnam War question now hangs over Syria: “Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows/That too many people have died?”
Dylan criticized authority, phonies and frauds of all types, and his heartbreak-inspired rant about the idiot wind that blows “every time you move your teeth” has new resonance amid our ugly politics.
The Nobel Prizes have never been simply about accomplishment; it’s not hard to imagine the academy wasn’t also sending a message.
For a nation that believes in second acts and second chances, Dylan has been the essence of reinvention. We celebrate his roots in New York as an acoustic folk singer in the clubs of Greenwich Village. He made his mark as a protest singer, and he performed during the “I Have a Dream” rally led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But Dylan also sang rock, blues, country, pop, religiously inspired songs, powerful love ballads and Christmas carols.
Young people who say they don’t know him do know his songs, because Dylan’s lyrics belong to all times. Nobel or not, Bob Dylan will always be forever young.
— The editorial board