Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate!

I had heard the rumors for years, but I didn’t think it actually would happen.  My takes on a few Dylan albums:

FreeWheelin’ Bob Dylan: One of his most listenable and underrated albums, the same is true for Another Side of Bob Dylan.

Bringing It All Back Home: The album I fell in love with as a kid.  Some of it is overwrought but mostly still amazing, perhaps his highest peaks.

Highway 61 Revisited: Half of it is wonderful, but it contains excess and some so-so judgment.

Blonde on Blonde: Many see this as Dylan’s peak, but I don’t listen to it much.  Somehow the sound is a little harsh for my taste.

The Basement Tapes: The most overrated, too much murky slush and slosh.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, vol.II: The perfect medley.

Blood on the Tracks: Maybe the most consistent and listenable album, though it’s not pathbreaking in the way that the mid-sixties work was.

Time Out of Mind: An amazing “late career” work.

Dylan’s memoir is excellent, and his most underrated contribution outside of creating music is the CDs he edited for satellite radio, many hours of Dylan selecting and playing classics from early American musical history, blues, country, mixed styles, perhaps the single best look at the early evolution of American popular music.  Many hours of listening pleasure.  Bob Dylan Radio Hour.  And the Martin Scorsese four-hour bio-documentary on Dylan is one of the better movies ever made, No Direction Home it is called.

If I recall correctly, three of the Conversations with Tyler turned to the topic of Bob Dylan.  Camille Paglia loves the song “Desolation Row,” Cass Sunstein is a big fan, especially of some of the early period work, and Ezra Klein feels he is overrated, I guess that means especially overrated now.

Here are my earlier posts on Bob Dylan.  Complain all you want, I say Bob Dylan is a better and more important artist than say Philip Roth.  It’s not even close.

Congratulations to Bob Dylan, polymath!


GOD!!! I thought you were joking! It is real! GOD! Stop the world, I want to get off.

Dylan is just as good as this joker: "Odysseus Elytis won in 1979 “for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man’s struggle for freedom and creativeness”."

C'mon, who has read Elytis? Not I, and I speak, read and write Greek (like an elementary school kid, but still). By contrast, Dylan's music is understood by millions!

"Dylan’s music is understood by millions!"

as "mumble blowin mumble, mumble"

Well, to be fair, it was the Literature Nobel, not the Good Diction one. His lyrics are to be read.
"I first heard Bob Dylan in the spring of 1962. It was on Les Claypool's FM show in Los Angeles, back when hardly anyone had an FM radio. It was the Bob Dylan album. I thought at the time, 'I hope that old man lives long enough to record another album.' He did."

I always felt Kazantzakis deserved it.

Come on, Thiago, you have to admit the guy does the best Dylan imitation ever.

I don't have any objections to giving a literature prize to a popular musician but IMHO there are plenty of musicians out there who can write circles around Dylan. Joni Mitchell is one but there are scores of them.

You know who does the best Bob Dylan (folk Bob Dylan at least) imitation ever? Hugh Laurie. Dylan is a close second. If.
This choice was a slap onthe face of the Brazilian people. If the Swedish weren't neuter, we would crush them.

As a Brazilian writer used to say, "writers start imitating their idols, then they don't imitate anyone, then they start imitating themselves".

Where is Tyler's post where he pontificates on the future of Thailand now that the king has died?

So do I Thiago. I want to get off.

It's Nobel Prize in Literature. With all due respect to Dylan's poetic lyrics there are so many novelists, poets and thinkers dedicating their lives to writing great books... there was no need for this.

It's not like the brilliant Daniel Kahneman being awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, Literature is a different game. A brilliant writer may die this year and never get the award just like Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges or Maya Angelou never got it... I'm not happy at all.

However, congrats Bob Dylan.

Oh, I am glad Borges is dead and can't see this travesty of justice. Well, he was blind, but I am happy he is dead anyway because he was Argentinian. I do not hold it against him, though, and he surely was a great write. And the Swedish Communists sabotaged Jorge Amado.

"I am happy he is dead anyway because he was Argentinian"

That's sick.

Stop it.

It is not my fault they are racist, fascist, savage aggressors we had to repel at a great cost of lives and treasure. But, as I said, I don't hold it agai st him. Some people just can't avoid been Argentinians.

JC, thanks for mentioning Jorge Luis Borges, I wasn't aware of the depth, intellect, and courage of this Author.

Kahneman? not so much . . .

Bob Dylan? Yes!

Orthofer's early reaction is muted. I know he's been dreading this day for years. From 2014:
Bob Dylan: come on people -- Bob Dylan does not belong anywhere near this discussion, this year or any year (despite the annual crackpot claim to the contrary)

I don't understand this question, Tyler: "What are they called again?"

What do you mean by asking this?

"... Ezra Klein feels he is overrated..."
This makes a lot of sense.

Listen to the interview. Ezra Klein's argument was more "I have no taste in music/pop culture so i don't like making "objective" statements on it (or words to similar effect) but personally

Robo Liberal has no taste in web design either.

he wasn't really saying that, he was saying he thinks the guy is over-rated. but he was being polite about it.

I believe they were Theme Time radio - wonderful stuff:

Yes, "Theme Time Radio Hour." Themes, dreams & schemes! I have a whole bunch saved on CD.

Two years in a row of irrelevance from the Nobel committee ... And a slap in the face to the American literature community.

What about Brazilian literature community? Millions oof Brazilians deserved that prize (Machado de Assis, Lima Barreto, Graciliano Rmos, Cecília Meireles, Jorge Amado, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Santos Dumont, Murilo Mendes, Olavo Bilac, Augusto dos Anjos, Coelho Netto). Now he is getting the prize because he is American. We were stabbed in the back.

Are you sure those aren't soccer players?

Yes, I am. They are some of the greatest word artisans Manking has ever seen, nut unfortunately they happened to be Brazilians. Never the First World's anti-Brazilian bias was so obvious.

it's a bias I think of as "7 to 1".

We crushed the Hun and won the gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games as we planned.

Should have given a Nobel to Norman Gimbel.

João Ubaldo Ribeiro is my favorite Brazilian writer. :)

He was pretty good, but a former alcoholic probably had no chances anyway.

Two years? Sorry, the Nobel permanently lost all credibility when it gave the Peace prize to Obama for literally no reason whatsoever.

Before that, it was Al Gore and his troupe ruining the Nobel forever, before that it was Arafat, before that it was Mandela, before that it was Marshall. The far-right and its predictable complains...

Dario has just died. There can be only one!
I am dying of heartbreak, I am a patriot dying of hertbreak. Why are they doing it to me? Why do the Swedish Academy hate me so much?

* Dario Fo

Did anyone really complain about Mandela? Maybe some people who put too much emphasis on his armed communist past.

My complaint would be that the prize taints that great man.

Lots of people here think he should not have been freed or made President, let alone get the Nobel.

This isn't correct. Obama clearly stated that he hopes the world will not have nuclear weapons, most likely sometime after he is dead.

The Nobel committee understood that it took incredible courage for a President to say that. They probably wanted to give it to Reagan for saying the same thing but had to settle on Obama because Reagan was dead.

Time Out of Mind is amazing. It's the album that revived my interest in Bob Dylan. And he followed it up with several amazing albums, including Love & Theft and Modern Times.

Now, let's hope Leonard Cohen is the next Nobel winner! He's easily the best lyricist of the last 50 years.

I agree! I never liked any album again after TooM. I really felt that "Highlands" would have been a perfect swan song for him, and this should have been his last album.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded. Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed. Everybody knows that the war is over. Everybody knows the good guys lost. Everybody knows the fight was fixed.

Partial credit for 19th century South Carolina poet Henry Timrod, whose work seems to've helped "inspire" some of Mr. Zimmerman's compositions?

For the BBC's Radio 6 Music, he created 3 seasons of one-hour episodes stitching together songs on a theme with poetry, prose, history and anecdote. They're my favourite of his creations and you can get them all at

OK, first the election, now this.

Hear me, my people: it is time to rise up and rid the world of the Baby Boomers.

Not before they bankrupt the Medicare system.

For the times they are a changin'!

...Or not...

Oh come on, the boomers' music is like one thing they left us that's actually any good, and Dylan is the greatest of them all.

"Oh come on, the boomers’ music is like one thing they left us that’s actually any good, and Dylan is the greatest of them all."

But the Nobel Prize for Literature?

We've now reached peak boomer. The only way this can be topped is if Dylan rides to the Nobel ceremony on a Harley, shills for Viagra during his speech, and then tops it off by blaming millenials for something they had no control over.

Dylan is not a Boomer.

I'd like to see the history of music presented visually, in more graphs, to emphasize the evolution and how music (especially in the 1950s and 1960s) split among many categories. Dylan came from a folk background, then split into a combination of folk (he held onto lyrics), jazz and blues, and rock n roll. Today, folk has mostly merged with blue grass - those who watch/listen to e-town (Boulder) know what I mean. And so on. When Dylan broke from folk and started using electric guitars, etc., the blow-back from the folk scene was loud and relentless. Of course, rock n roll split too, into bubble gum, acid rock, etc. In the 1970s, ballads returned and dominated popular music (James Taylor et al.), then came boy and girl bands, and now bubble gum ballads by boys and girls. Popular music in America always seems to return to harmless ballads, from Frank Sinatra to Taylor Swift. Music with an edge (and social consciousness) continues but with a limited audience. It's no coincidence that politics split along similar lines during this era, conservatives objecting to the music they identified with revolutionary ideas.

To expand on the revolutionary theme, it's not surprising that Cowen is drawn to revolutionary music since he is also drawn to revolutionary economic ideas. Those who break from convention are more alike than different, even if superficially they occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum.

A lot of folk is heavily influenced by rock. Say, singer songwriters who are heavily influenced by Dylan and those kinds of people, but whose music comes out a little harder due to use of drums, bass, etc. in the final output. But at the origin, the person who actually makes the songs remains pretty folk once you unplug them.

Underrated: OH MERCY. That great Daniel Lanois sound. Some absolutely perfect numbers like "Most of the Time" and "What Was It You Wanted"; and as usual, you don't have to agree at all with Dylan's apocalyptic evangelical outlook on theology and the world to be blown away by songs like "Political World" and "Ring Them Bells." Not even afraid to shout god's name, but you're not even sure what it is. And they're breaking down the distance between right & wrong. I've heard other people cover some of these and I totally lose interest - his performance on "Ring Them Bells" is inimitable.


Not crazy about "Ring Them Bells" or "Disease of Conceit," but I too love Lanois's production (especially on the sublime "Most of the Time") and would rank Oh Mercy as his finest album of the '80s and among his overall best.

Oh Mercy was a bright spot in the middle of a decade long slump. Lanois does a brilliant job and tracks like Political World, Everything is Broken and The Man in the Long Black Coat are as good as anything in Bob's catalogue. Also - Most of the TIme, another classic.

Peak Dylan was his too-short 1976 tour, which is poorly showcased on the live album 'Hard Rain.' It featured completely reworked, jammed-out and deep-fried versions of all his best songs. Most likely because it he was on hard drugs at the time. The band is top notch, including the now-legendary T-Bone Burnett. Naturally it was a commercial flop (compared to the 1975 leg of that tour).

Shelter from the Storm:
Like A Rolling Stone:
Just Like A Woman:
Idiot Wind:

Links reformated:

Shelter from the Storm:

Like A Rolling Stone:

Just Like A Woman:

Idiot Wind:

What is the "bootleg" state of things vis-à-vis this tour? Are there official ones or unofficial ones that are better than HR?

Acoustic Thunder

Hold the Fort for What It's Worth

Blood and Thunder

Like a Rolling Stone - The Hidden TV Show

Those boots plus the official release give you all the best of 1976. All are unofficial, but should be easy to track down.

When my friends say he's overrated, I usually start sending them youtube videos of covers. If you can't hear what good songwriting is in him, that's fine, but you can't help but be struck by it when he's being covered well. And I'm not even talking about Hendrix.

Yes, the covers of Dylan show that he was a great songwriter, but also reveal that his lyrics weren't important for their meaning. In the hands of Hendrix or the Byrds it is the rhythym of the words that is important, like in any pop song. Dylan is not a great writer, he is a great composer.

I was dragged to a Bob Dylan concert a few years back. I couldn't understand a word the guy was saying. It was like watching a demented geriatric at a nursing home try to hold a tune. EHHHHHH REHHHH EHYEHEYE. Terrible. The audience thought he was great though, or at least they pretended to because he was Saint Dylan after all. The Baby Boomers gave especially obnoxious praise. Perhaps they were cheering for the continued relevance of their fading generation, I don't know.

It's like Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in a Mets uniform. You gotta judge the greats by their peak.

Dylan has not been good in concert since before I was old enough to go to concerts.

>" I couldn’t understand a word the guy was saying. It was like watching a demented geriatric at a nursing home try to hold a tune."

You just described his entire career.

I see your 55 gallon drum of extra-strength vitriol arrived. But you shouldn't take it all at once, it makes you sound stupid.

I haven't laughed so hard in ages. So Dylanesque.

Now he could sit down with another Nobel winner, the guy in the White House, and they could discuss world affairs, politics, literature and other real important stuff. Obviously the Nobel committee continues on the road to irrelevance.

But let's not let Tyler Cowan off the hook for not calling this the absurdity that it is.

Will Al Gore be there?

I want to hear rock/pop musicians spout off on who the best economists are.
That would make just as much sense.

What's bad on Highway 61, Tyler?

Agree. Not a bad number on it. His best album ever. Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. Revolutionary sound.

Tombstone blues?

wtf that song is great. Ballad of a Thin Man is probably the weak point

Highway 61 is an incredible album. The only knock is that all the songs sound the same. "It Takes a Train to Cry" and "Desolation Row" are really the only songs that depart from the snotty, strident brat rock sound. Of course, on that album Dylan both invented and perfected the snotty strident brat rock sound, so it's hard to fault him too much.

The man still does not deserve a Nobel Prize.

I wonder how much it cost Bob to bribe the Norgy stuffed shirts?

Don't forget John Wesley Harding. Right up there with other albums you mentioned. In terms of pure listen ability it doesn't get much better, and that's only the start of how great an album it is. Underrated by non-Dylan fans, although the hard core fans properly rate it very highly.

I'm on cloud 9 right now. Best news of the year.

I still say Dylan is overrated ...

Dylan covers Dean-O. Fantastic.

Well, maybe my collection of Dylan's 'early' work (till about 1970) on vinyl will be worth something. Wonder where they are? Dylan was the precursor to Rap - I'd call neither music. Although Rap has changed so much - I'd guess the Large Music Companies are to blame. But I do wonder at how they pick their winners. There are lots of singers with a body of social/political/human condition commentary, aren't there? or are there that many with global impact? IDK.


I like Bob Dylan, but if you must honour him with a Nobel, create a new category that fits, instead of prostituting one that already exists. Better yet, don't create a new category, because you don't need to encompass all of human endeavour with a freaking Nobel Prize, and eliminate the Peace Prize, it was debased when they awarded it to Obama. It's like there is some kind of bizarre inflammation of the limbic system afflicting elites. They just have to be oh so inclusive that intelligible boundaries must be effaced.

I'm sure these idiots think they're "updating" the Nobel for our "modern" sensibilities. How did that work for the Olympics, and is lawn bowling an Olympic event yet? Surely we have to cater to the audience as well.

we do have lawn bowls in the Commonwealth Games. You're right about it all I think, though the way these things play they'll generate lots more interest than if they'd given it to Esme Ultihov the obscure Serbian poet, which they probably did last year. I think Nobel Prizes for literature fail because they aren't any benchmark you'd apply to judge literature (I don't know enough about sciences to have a view, but it does seem easier to get those right). Nobody is ever going to say, well, we wanted to put together the best syllabus we could for modern literature so we worked our way down the Nobel Prize list. Well, I assume they won't, but I guess I'd also assume you wouldn't get a nobel prize for not being George Bush.

Turned 13 in 1960 and began listening to Dylan right after he broke through. I found more that resonated in his music and lyrics than any other singer/composer of that time period. I continue to listen to him and read his works (both the books and collected lyrics). I find this a surprising and inspiring choice by the Nobel committee. I think if those who have posted negative things here would actually read the poetry, it will validate the choice. A brief anecdote here: Some years ago I was having lunch with a colleague who at the time was an executive with a local biotech company. We were talking about regrets in life and he surprised me with his. He was in charge of the talent show at Hibbing High School during the 1958-59 school year and deemed Robert Zimmerman not talented enough to perform!!!

the funny thing is that he was probably right.

Reasonable people can differ on their estimation of Bob Dylan's talents but it is hard to see how a reasonable person could believe that he deserves a big prize for literature.

It's the jet setting "In Crowd" giving themselves pats on the backs. Bob Dylan is, I'm sure, hugely popular at the kind of parties these guys host for each other. They know him, he's cool, who cares if some writer that's never been to any of their parties gets the shaft.

No matter what you think of him, if you put on Dylan at a party you are doing it really really wrong.

"No matter what you think of him, if you put on Dylan at a party you are doing it really really wrong."

"Folksinger Joan Baez sang Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” at a Bernie Sanders rally in San Jose last week."

Thanks for proving my point.

A Brazilian journalist wrote: "I imagine them (Baez and Dylan when they were dating) fighting and, as the defintive weapon, he singing “Blowin’ in the wind” and she singing “Guantanamera”. It (the noise) is worse than someone punching the walls of your bedroom.

"Thanks for proving my point."

LOL. Ok, point to msgkings.

Haha. Many braindead criticisms of Dylan, but this is spot on.

I agree with Tyler - which living writers would you say deserve this more? Keep it to Americans if you want to simplify the conversation.

Very cool!

I wonder how this will affect the annual Bob Dylan tribute at a certain venue for independent musicians in Toronto ...

I hope I am around for Taylor Swift's prize in 2037.

"I hope I am around for Taylor Swift’s prize in 2037."

She doesn't have a chance. Miley Cyrus, just came out as a Pansexual.

So brave! Give her awards!


Likes to have sex with half man/half goat?

LOL. Who wouldn't?

But is she Chosen?

His amazing storytelling is what made him one of the most recognized musicians of the entire century.

As far as singers and musicians go, he kinda sucks but is famous as ... a singer and musician? Obviously his writing is pretty stunning, because he's not a sex figure either.

Political correctness has until now been the problem of the non-science Nobels (but not science Nobels--the demographics of science laureates demonstrates a distinct lack of affirmative action), but it seems that now they're going for populism. Will all the literature laureates be pop stars from now on?

Will all the literature laureates be pop stars from now on?

No. You're being silly. And this is coming from an internet troll.

I don't know how many commenters here have the musical aptitude to have at any point been on stage with an instrument, but: For all the people who say Bob Dylan is terrible/overrated/incomprehensible: were you to share your opinions with musicians/artists who you *do* like, they would very likely tell you to please f*** off and that you have no idea what you're talking about.

I agree with the comment above about finding good covers if you don't like Dylan's voice. And if you don't have the ability to pick up a guitar and melt hearts and drop panties with a rendition of "My Back Pages," well, sorry. Your boy Trump couldn't either.

I do not consider myself good at guitar, and I consider myself to be much better than him at guitar. Same for singing.

Dylan was always all about the lyrics. And if the complaint is that you didn't understand when he sang them, that has no bearing on whether he was good at writing them.

Let's see a little of this skill you speak of.

I do not feel the need to prove myself to anonymous people online. The point is that Dylan wasn't great at guitar, and anyone who's good at guitar knows this.

It's not an insult, it's not a problem. Nothing wrong with the fact that he's not a class act singer or musician. His writing made up for it more than enough.

I have the musical aptitude to have performed in public for pay. But I don't need that qualification to say that Dylan is the dominant literary figure of the last 60 years. His music and lyrics will be taught in school, as will Shakespeare's plays, when Philip Roth, Don De Lillo, and Thomas Pynchon are footnotes in an academic discussion of 20th century writers. Bravo!

Now it all comes clear... My high school English teacher claimed in 1987 that in the late 20th century the last poets were song writers.

I thought of Neil Peart's "Xanadu" as I nodded in agreement. My guess is that he was thinking of Dylan.

Sadly, Peart's lyrics are much too deep for the shallow minds of the Nobel committee. (grin)

I prefer Olivia Newton-John's 'Xanadu' myself.

I forgot about that song.

I concede that the _music_ of her Xanadu beats Rush's head-ace-inducing-time-signature-changes hands down, but_ lyrically_, I think the nod goes to Peart.

I know good music when I hear it and I know good literature when I read it. And the Brazilian cover of his songs (Zé Ramalho Canta Bob Dylan) is much better than his singing.

Yes, most Dylan covers are better than the original.

Well done Mr. Dylan. Over the years, I have had snippets of your songs/poetry running around in my head. The only others to manage this have been Rimbaud, Wordsworth, Shakespeare.

I bet ice ice baby was stuck in your head at one point too- should vanilla ice get a noble. If the most influence poetry has had on you is the occasional snippet then you probally aren't the best person to judge.

And you are perhaps the best person to judge ?

Well, at least Springsteen didn't win.

Quick thoughts on Dylan:

His memoir, Chronicles, is very intresting. Most surprising: played some pond hockey, like everyone in Hibbing; Not at all interested in being the "voice of his generation"; Presents himself as an old fashioned ordinary guy.

Best cover: Along the Watchtower by Hendrix.

Best folk style songs: Chimes of Freedom Flashing; Don't Think Twice

To all these angry Baby Boomers in this thread, do us a favor and retire already. Sit on your front porches, relax, crank the Dylan and the rest of your Dad Rock, and give us young folks a chance to advance our careers.

What does any of this have to do with your career, you self-absorbed wet noodle? Go take a selfie and collect some likes for us.

Ooo, so edgy you Gen X-ers! So cynical. Get back to me when you stop a war, man.


I have no generational identity yet :(

Get back at me when you win a war, you coward!

He was the mumbly guy in the Traveling Wilburys, right? Or was that Tom Petty?

Neither could carry Roy orbison's jocks strap.


Sorry for the misplaced post, I'm still getting used to my computing machine

It was more effective when we took the ........ to mean that you were being silent.

I'm just going to say that if a singer/songwriter/poet was going to get the Nobel Prize for Literature, it should have been Leonard Cohen instead.

If the Nobel lit committee is going to stop awarding the prize to obscure novelists from random countries for a couple years and come back to the US, why not Dylan. He's not a novelist but there haven't been American novelists with a great body of work the past half century. As for poets, the best American poets aren't writing poems, they are writing songs. So who else ?

Um, Don DeLillo say hi.

I have this belief that people who don't like Bob have just never really listened. We all sorta have this knowledge of him as "the-great-songwriter-with-a-bad-voice" so we just assume that story is true. But if you don't really get the references and allusions in the lyrics, then you probably won't be able to appreciate them (and it usually takes a couple listens). And if you just assume he has a bad voice, then you're not really going to give him a chance. So usually people hear one song and say "big deal." Any album from Freewheelin to Desire is worth a couple listens.

I really listened, and then I discovered that the lyrics often make no sense. Dylan was lazy at times, unlike Yeats.

Tell me what these words mean: "All along the watchtower". I know what "all" means, I know what "along" means, I also know what a watchtower is, but what does it mean to keep your view "along the watchtower"?

Mike Bloomfield, who worked with Bob on Highway 61 and other projects, told me that Bob (he called him Bob) responded to criticism that he was a lousy singer, by "I'm not a singer, I'm a poet" and by attacks that he was a poor poet, by "I'm not a poet, I'm a musician" and so on. All of which was true.
BTW Bertrand Russell got a Noble for Literature even though he wasn't a literature guy (Satan in The Suburbs was his only attempt at fiction and it wasn't much), If the committee wants to give someone a Noble for something they did, they have to fit it into one of the existing categories.
And, I think Bob deserves one as much as most of the guys who got them.

Those idiot Scandis finally got one right after years of public embarrassment including Arafat, Krugman, and Obama.

Was away last weekend and subjected to an easy listening (!) version of "Don't Think Twice." Even with that, I couldn't help noticing how good the words were, how good the music was, and how they supported each other.

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