The victory in Bob Dylan’s winning a Nobel Prize is for songwriting. Dylan is nowhere near one of the greatest songwriters. However, this may finally be Gideon’s triumph.
Many of the men and women of literature’s ivory tower are well known for not giving the respect that is due to songwriters by not considering them writers of literature, despite the fact that the first poets of Western Civilization like Homer were singer-songwriters (aoidos.) Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature finally vindicates literate songwriting.
For some, Dylan’s win reinforces what much of his public has known all along: that we’ve been listening to a home grown Homer, writer of the Illiad, this whole time.
For others, it is a bad decision on the part of the folks at the Swedish Academy.
Songs are literature and have always been. In the England of the 18th century, with which the US shares its culture, poems were often referred to as songs. The classic English poet William Blake, who was well known for singing his poems, even wrote a book of poems entitled Songs. Elizabethans of the 16th century before him wrote “song books” to mean books of poetry, for poems were meant to be both read and sung. It was in this same age and spirit that a man by the name of William Shakespeare was also a songwriter, for example for his play Othello.
Some might argue that the English tradition is not the American one and that we don’t traditionally produce that many songbooks that can be read to go along with songs. Genius.com would beg to differ.
It’s not just that musical literature deserves praise. Let’s be real: written literature owes itself to sung literature. Popular songs provide the lyrics, the verses, stories, romances, dramas, that culture a populace. The lyrics of songs gave way to the souls that write lyrics, being that sung literature defines a national community’s outlook on life like a written poem never does.