Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Nobel Prize in Stuff I Like

I'm clearly not the right person to evaluate the merits of giving the Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan, inasmuch as I'm not a Dylan fan. It's weird; I feel like I ought to be--but every effort to get into his music, I've just bounced off. It's not that I don't understand why he's good and why people like him, but he just leaves me cold for reasons I can't explain. It certainly doesn't help that I don't like his singing voice (and I like plenty of stylized singers) and that harmonica music tends to set my teeth on edge.

Still, I want to try to think this through, so I try to imagine that instead, the prize was given to Leonard Cohen, the obvious other choice if you're going to give it to a pop musician, and a guy whose music is very important to me. What would my reaction be then?

I dunno...I really, really think it would be incredulous laughter followed by a yeah, I'm glad in some sense that he's being honored, but this is still kinda weird, dude. There are a lot of songwriters whose lyrics resonate with me, but it never, ever occurred to me that Cohen or Tom Waits or Ron Mael or David Bowie should therefore be Nobel laureates. I see similarities to the whole "videogames are art" crowd: "we like playing videogames and we want to think they're Important in some intangible way, therefore videogames are art." Likewise: "we like Bob Dylan and think he's important, therefore his work is Literature." Just because you like something doesn't mean it has to be something else you admire, people! This whole thing strikes me as a weird category error, like awarding the Booker Prize to a videogame. You can think that's weird and inappropriate without throwing any shade at videogames, people! Also, let me note that if you're calling Dylan lyrics literature, you're doing one of two things: you're either saying that the music itself is unimportant to Dylan's appeal, or you're saying that the music itself somehow counts as "literary." It's just nonsense.

But maybe I'm the hidebound one? It's certainly possible. Lately, I've found myself thinking about my younger coworkers' music of choice--contemporary pop music--in terms very like the way old people always think about young people's music. So I'm clearly not immune to charges of cultural conservatism. Still, I can only say what I think, which is that reading and listening to music aren't comparable experiences, and the latter is not "literature." Claiming otherwise is just incoherent. Plus, you're empowering those damn college kids who want to write their literary analysis about their favorite band's lyrics. No one needs that.

3 Comments:

Blogger Pan MiluĊ› pontificated to the effect that...

I think this award opened important door. An Nobel Prize for a comic book should be next :D

4:09 AM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG pontificated to the effect that...

Geoffrey Blum agrees with you! If only Barks were still alive...

2:43 AM  
Blogger Thomas pontificated to the effect that...

If lyrics don't count as literature, then poetry doesn't either. I dunno, apparently Dylan's lyrics are really very smart. Or so this other blogger (Andrew Rilstone) says.

5:20 AM  

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