Bob Dylan, the poet laureate of the rock era, whose body of work has influenced generations of songwriters and been densely analyzed by fans, critics and academics, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.
It is the first time the honor has gone to a musician. In its citation, the Swedish Academy credited Mr. Dylan with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
There’s a great documentary about Dylan called Don’t Look Back, filmed in 1967 during Dylan’s first tour of the UK. He’s in his mid-twenties, and he’s a pretty awful person. One of the sub-plots is based on his rivalry with Donovan, a UK folk singer. The two musicians meet in a hotel room: Dylan is a rude jerk, Donovan plays a song, and it’s pretty good! (He wrote ‘Mellow Yellow’ and ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’!) And then Dylan picks up the guitar and plays ‘It’s all Over Now Baby Blue’, and you see the sickening realisation dawn on Donovan’s face that the person he’s been set up as a rival to is someone who might be bratty and rude but is also, crushingly, completely unfairly, Bob Dylan.