Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bob Dylan's Nobel Speech


I just listened to, while I read, Bob Dylan's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in which he tries to connect his song writing to literature. It has lightly heard and unobtrusive piano accompaniment. 

I liked it a lot and think in a deep way I understand him, having spent a good chunk of my music listening and reading life having listened to the kind of roots music he immersed himself in after hearing a Leadbelly record maybe the day after Buddy Holly died, who he and I both love too, and spent it reading many of the same books. 

What he's talking about is typified in the Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection for one example or in Harry Smith's Anthology Of American Folk Music for another, the unseen republic. 

Dylan talks about how the themes from Moby Dick, All Quiet On The Western Front and The Odyssey find their way into his songs as he got past the vocabulary of the folk songs he learned. He got past it to write songs in his own way.

I think he connected his song writing to literature well and in a particular way, and it's the way most people hear and read songs, poems and stories, which is to say in ways that connect to their common but deeply felt experiences, and I think it is good and fitting that he won the Nobel Prize.

One disagreement: encapsulated by Dylan saying meaning is not so important as hearing the beauty of lyrics or hearing an overall story or taking in the large themes, or all these together, that--here's the precise encapsulation--for an example he gives, Shakespeare is meant to be seen on stage not read as a text whilst pouring over its meaning. 

I'm guessing that that's what Shakespeare intended. But his intention in this is irrelevant: his works aren't his anymore; he's dead; they're his audience's. Seeing them performed, reading them closely aren't exclusive. If poetry isn't amenable to understanding, to paraphrase, to why did Donne say that this way, then it's sounds, images and rhythms of compelling qualities but meaningless.

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