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In Bob I trust

For some Bob Dylan is just a singer you remember in the college canteen to add a dash of ‘revolution’ in that sickly sweet cup of tea; for some he is a way of life

brunch Updated: Oct 14, 2016 12:52 IST
Bob Dylan,2016 Nobel prize for literature,Times They Are A-Changin
Dylan received the Noble Prize for literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”(Getty Images)

Almost ten years back, after finishing my Masters, I relocated to Delhi to do a diploma course in advertising. It was the first day. I was already hating the soggy December and the fact that Maths was a mandatory subject in the curriculum. After a long formal introduction, we hit the cafeteria for a break and there the conversation slowly veered to personal interests and hobbies...and then to literature..and then to poetry. Since most were students of literature and were Bongs, names like Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca , Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg started doing the rounds. I love poetry and when asked what I was reading at that point, my reply was “Bob Dylan”. What followed was a confused silence accentuated with a few smirks. “Isn’t he a singer?” someone asked. “Well he is, but I like what he writes…” I tried to explain but to the ‘knowledgeable crowd’, he was just a random country singer with a monotonous nasal voice.

A few years later, I decided to get myself a tattoo. “It is a lifelong commitment. Think before you ink. If you want letterings, go for a line that really means something to you…once you get it done, there is no going back,” the tattoo artist cautioned. What followed was half-an-hour of brainstorming and calling up friends to come up with something philosophical, with zero results. At the end, I came up with: Don’t think twice, It’s alright…my tattooist shook his head in disapproval.

It was one line that has always given me the strength to move on every time the world seemed to have come to an end. I have never been to a counsellor for my depression… I have been to Bob Dylan. And every single time, he has got me back my sanity. He has taught me to love, to fight, to rebel and to let go.

To me, Bob Dylan is not just a singer/songwriter. He is a way of life. Be it the pragmatism of simple lines like Everything passes/ Everything changes/ Just do what you think you should do; or the love-struck Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile/Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile/His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean/ And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen; or the disillusionment of People are crazy and times are strange/I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range/I used to care, but things have changed; or his vehement reaction against the war in How many deaths will it take till they know / That too many people have died?;or the out-and-out political tone of Even the president of the United States/ Sometimes must have to stand naked --his songs speak of our times and issues. For the past 54 years he has remained Forever Young and relevant. A true chronicler of the time, a flip through his book of lyrics gives a definitive timeline of all the important events in the history of America.

Today, as Dylan received the Noble Prize for literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the news was greeted with shock, horror, and dismay by the purist. Many questioned Dylan’s credentials as a poet, and if he is even qualified to be listed in the same category as Haruki Murakami, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Philip Roth, let alone win the Nobel Prize for literature.

Nobel Prize is traditionally awarded to people for their originality and the influence their work has on others and Dylan’s songs, especially the initial ones were hardly original and many have, over the years, accused him of plagiarism. But there is no denying the fact that he is one of the most seminal and influential artists of our time who can be credited for single-handedly creating a new identity for modern music and offering generations of youth the anthem for their revolutions. Yes, his works are more of song lyrics than poems, but does that make them any less valid as literary pursuits? Weren’t the Greek elegies, which the literary world still puts in a rather high pedestal, meant to be sung? Didn’t it all begin with lyrical poetry and the travelling minstrels? I leave that discussion to the academicians. But, the times they certainly are a-changin’!

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First Published: Oct 14, 2016 12:43 IST