Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dylan Does It! : 25 Essential Songs by our Newest Nobel Laureate

"The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 is awarded to Bob Dylan for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

With that single sentence, Sara Danius of the Swedish Academy this morning awarded literature's most prestigious prize to the Picasso of popular music, the metamorphic genius who synthesized Beat poetry, folk lyricism and rock n roll rhythms into some of the most intoxicating artworks of the second half of the 20th century. Any doubts that Bob is in fact a poet can be laid to rest by quoting any of the many passages in his works that exhibit a linguistic and imagistic artistry equal to that of the best modern poets in our language:

Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy bench
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

                             --"Mr. Tambourine Man"

 At his best, especially in his works of the mid-1960s, Dylan is a major member of the American tradition of prophetic public poetry that begins with Walt Whitman, continues through Hart Crane, infuses Woody Guthrie, and informs Allen Ginsberg, who bequeathed it directly to Dylan.

In celebration of this year's Nobel, here's my personal playlist (in no particular order) of Bob at his poetic best.

  1. Masters of War
  2. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
  3. My Back Pages
  4. Subterranean Homesick Blues
  5. Mr. Tambourine Man
  6. Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
  7. Visions of Johanna
  8. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
  9. Like a Rolling Stone
  10. Tombstone Blues
  11. Ballad of a Thin Man
  12. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
  13. Desolation Row
  14. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
  15. Tangled Up In Blue
  16. Hurricane
  17. Blind Willie McTell
  18. Changing of the Guards
  19. Jokerman
  20. Song to Woody
  21. Maggie's Farm
  22. Highlands
  23. All Along the Watchtower
  24. When I Paint My Masterpiece
  25. Chimes of Freedom