UPDATE with more info: Robert Zimmerman, the favorite son of Hibbing, MN who became the shape-shifting voice of several generations as the songwriter, poet, scriptwriter, disc jockey, sculptor, painter, author and rebel Bob Dylan, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday morning in Stockholm, Sweden. The award is the first in literature to an American since 1993, when novelist Toni Morrison won. Dylan was cited for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” in the Swedish Academy’s understatement. The Nobel winner receives 8 million Swedish kronor, or just more than $900,000.
Dylan won the Academy Award Best for Original Song in 2001 for “Things Have Changed,” written for The Wonder Boys. Other notable films and television shows for which he wrote the music include Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, Renaldo And Clara, and Forrest Gump, as well as The Simpsons. In 2006, the choreographer Twyla Tharp built a Broadway show, The Times They Are A-Changin’, around Dylan’s catalog.
The award breaks with recent Academy tradition in that it goes to an artist people have actually heard of. In the case of Dylan, the Nobel recognizes an artist whose body of work has influenced not only the history of music, but of film, theater and the popular culture globally for more than half a century. Born in Duluth, MN but raised in Hibbing, Dylan moved in 1961 to New York’s Greenwich Village, where he was signed by the legendary music producer John Hammond and began turning out albums a year later.
In a fitting bit of synchronicity, the prize announcement came just after news of the death at age 90 of Nobel laureate Dario Fo, the Italian playwright, director and performer who won the prize in 1997 and was known, similarly, for a body of work suffused with anti-establishment fury. Dylan first became known for his songs of protest against war, convention, hypocrisy, complacency, racism and injustice with such lasting anthems as “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Masters Of War,” “Like A Rolling Stone” and, later, “Idiot Wind.” But his life in music has been marked by an ever-changing personality as Dylan’s spiritual and intellectual pursuits took him to different belief systems and modes of thought, as well as an ever-expanding breadth of musical styles from folk to protest, rock and rockabilly, to country & western and traditional pop.
Behind it all has been a tidal wave of words and music producing songs that range from apocalyptic (“Desolation Row”) to tender (“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”) to vengeful (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”) to outraged (“Hurricane,” “Chimes Of Freedom”) to sexy (“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”) to satirical (the often misrepresented “Forever Young”) to the elegiac (“Visions Of Johanna”). That last includes the line, “The ghost of ‘lectricity howls in the bones of her face,” an image that, alone, is Nobel-worthy. But you can surely make your own list.