Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win split opinion in the literary community. One side thought he thoroughly deserved it after a lifetime of creating musical poetry that defined a nation, on the other side were cries that a songwriter shouldn’t be awarded the prize before literary giants such as Philip Roth.
In typical Dylan fashion he ignored the announcement that he was to be awarded the highest accolade in literature. Always one to shy away from awards, despite winning 43 over his career, Dylan reluctantly accepted the prize. In the end he didn’t go to the ceremony in person and the US Ambassador to Sweden read out his speech. According to the Guardian, Dylan said in his speech “if someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds of standing on the moon.”
Commenting on his controversial nomination Dylan, perhaps tongue in cheek, referred to Shakespeare and asked whether the famous playwright would have considered Hamlet literature as he wrote it. Singer Patti Smith sang “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” accompanied by the Philharmonic Orchestra at the ceremony in honor of Dylan. During the performance Smith appeared to be overwhelmed with emotion and had to restart the second verse. The performance was well received with The New Yorker stating “the entire performance felt like a fierce and instantaneous corrective to “time like these.””
The New Yorker was perhaps referring to music’s place in modern society and how Dylan’s win is an important reminder of the power and influence of music that has been lost. A prime example of this was the use of his song Forever Young as the 2015 UK X Factor winner’s song. Digital Spy reported that this choice didn’t go down well with Dylan fans who believed that reality music shows such as X Factor go against everything Dylan stands for. While Dylan has avoided becoming commercial, reality music shows have a broad media reach to maximize their audience. One example of this is online gaming site The X Factor Games which combines the musical reality show with gaming to draw in as many fans as possible. Dylan’s Nobel Prize win harks back to a time when music meant more than money and wasn’t a commercial money machine
Many notable literary figures have come out in support of Dylan’s win including Stephen King who wrote an article for Rolling Stone on why he deserved the prize. In the article King recounted how he was 14 when he first heard Dylan and has followed the artist ever since. Turning his attention to critics of Dylan’s win King had strong words: “people complaining about his Nobel either don’t understand or it’s just plain old case of sour grapes.”