Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan

For the first time since 1962, when John Steinbeck won the honor, the Nobel Prize for Literature has gone to an American-born man.  It's the first time any American has won since Toni Morrison in 1993.  And the winner is Bob Dylan, who was honored "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

I'm pretty happy for Bob Dylan, and I think he's a worthy winner.  Dylan wrote many different types of songs and many different types of moods, and your preferences about his material will be heavily influenced by how your moods and his match up.  For me personally, my favorite Dylan songs are the ones with long, twisting lines that he was writing between 1964 and 1966.  Here is one of my favorites, from 1965.  It not only seems to capture all the bad stuff that was about to happen to the country in the late 1960's, it also captures a certain mood -- a combination of recklessness, anger, and despair -- that is common in modern times:

It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover that you’d just be one more
Person crying

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked

An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it

Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something they invest in

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine

But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music


  1. I agree on both the happy and the worthy. Man, oh, man, he has worked!

    At this point, I love his love songs the most, but I've loved other types of his songs more at other points--and there's a whole, whole bunch of his music that I still have never taken in. One of my brothers has gone through a whole period of loving him based on one set of his records, completely and almost violently letting him go of him based on another set and then turning onto him anew (really anew--like he was a whole different new artist) based on a third set of his albums.

    Bruce Springsteen will probably always be my favorite, and I personally like probably a dozen or two dozen singer-songwriters more (Carole King, John Prine, Nina Simone, etc.) And there are TV shows, books, movies, poems, blog posts, etc. that have done at least as much to help me love God, others, myself and life in general as did, say, "Tangled Up In Blue." But I can't think of a writer of any type who has been genuinely meaningful in my life and in the lives of actual individuals I know who I think would be as deserving of this honor as is Bob Dylan.

  2. Replies
    1. I always thought that the Mark Twain should have gone to Harold Ramis. Writing credits: Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, and Year One. That's 1978 to 2009.