December 10th is the day that Nobel Prizes – one of the most distinguished and prestigious acknowledgments of artistic, academic, and social achievement in the world – are handed out in Sweden. Some of the most prominent scientists, artists, and politicians have been recipients of Nobel prizes since they first started awarding them in 1901.
This year, something unprecedented happened: the Nobel Prize for literature has been awarded for the first time to a musician. Bob Dylan, who started his career as a folk singer from Minnesota and became a political musical force to be reckoned with, receives the Nobel Prize today. Historically reclusive, private, and shy, Dylan will not be attending the ceremony but is sending an acceptance speech and will fulfill the responsibilities of Nobel recipients by giving a public lecture and attending the Nobel banquet within six months of accepting the award.
In honor of Dylan’s award, I would like to suggest the following 5 songs to listen to by Bob Dylan. Full disclosure: he happens to be one of my most favorite musicians.
- Jokerman (1983). Dylan is a master of words and they don’t always make sense the way songs that are more traditionally ‘about something’ do. He talks in dreamy phrases and fragments, and he plays with words like a poet does. Sometimes he combines concepts because they sound good together, and this song is an excellent example of that elegant skill.
- Slow Train Coming (1979). This is a political song taken from an album Dylan made when he was participating in Christianity. (Over the years, Dylan’s faith – he was born Jewish and converted to Christianity, but had also been known to practice some Jewish customs –has been the subject of much conversation.) There are a lot of religious references in this song as well, but what’s most powerful is his criticism of governments telling us how to live so that they make the most profit. The line “It costs more to store the food than it do [sic] to give it” is one of my favorite lines, even since before I became a vegan.
- Hurricane (1976). Another example of a ‘political’ song; this was written after boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was imprisoned for a murder many believed he did not commit. Dylan and several other prominent celebrities and activists drew attention to Hurricane’s case by visiting him in prison and helping bring awareness about the lack of evidence and unconstitutional imprisonment of Carter, eventually being a part of several benefit concerts that raised money to help defend Carter, who was eventually freed in 1985.
- Abandoned Love (1985). This is a song without a chorus and it is very simple musically speaking. There is no bridge; it’s just a perfect example of the complicated relationships Dylan is not afraid to tackle in his songwriting. It’s beautiful and it’s torturous at the same time; like some relationships are at their end.
- Blowin’ in the Wind (1963). Possibly one of the most famous songs Dylan ever wrote, this simple folk ballad was made popular by Peter, Paul and Mary, who are single-handedly responsible for bringing Dylan’s music to the public after recording this song and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” for their 1963 album. The lyrics are about the tension between wanting change and needing to wait until someone wakes up enough to bring it about. He sings about bombs falling and people not being free and about liberation, which is personal, universal, and profound. It may sound outdated, but the lyrics and the message are, indeed, eternal.
Of all the musicians who have touched my musical soul with their voices and their wisdom, Dylan is it for me. Here’s a picture of me on the way to visit Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, a trip I made with my father when I was a teenager.
I once had the honor of meeting Bob Dylan and it was a moment I will never forget. I wish Mr. Dylan hearty congratulations and – for those of you who may not (yet) be Dylan fans – I hope you will learn to appreciate and maybe even love the squeaky-voiced shy Midwesterner who has made history time and again; this time with the Nobel Prize in Literature.