About Bob Dylan´s Nobel lecture. “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.”

It is not without a certain interest that I follow the norwegian journalist Robert Hoftun Gjestad’s writings related to Bob Dylan, in “Aftenposten”. About the lecture he makes a headline about that it is boring and not interesting. In this last case, I simply can not help myself, even after counting to 100, I just have to comment, for my own mental health reasons. (Link to Gjestad´s review)

Gjestad’s opening claims that “Bob Dylan’s Nobel lecture is a misused opportunity to say something interesting about his own songs.” In my humble opinion, I think we have a much bigger problem with Gjestad’s misused opportunity to say something interesting and / or sensible about the mentioned Nobel lecture. Gjestad uses Dylan´s “MusiCare Person Of The Year Prize”-speech in 2015 as a reference, where Dylan told something “interesting, exciting, important, funny – about his own work.” Of course Dylan fulfilled those criteria already  December 10th, in his speech read to the Nobel banquet, which Gjestad strangely did not mention. He justifies the reference to Musicare because Dylan in this speech spoke “Engaged and directly about artists and tunes that have helped shape his own classics. And not least how.” This is where it starts to go downhill for Gjestad, that in this way shows that he actually don´t see that Dylan in the present lecture gives us a new chapter of the unwritten Chronicles, Volume II, and” engaged and directly” tells us about authors and books “who have helped shape his own classics. And not least how. ”

Three bautas from the world literature, which Dylan chooses to use as examples of the effective work of literature, also in his art, is rejected by Gjestad as “Not exciting choices.” Just that. Furthermore, he claims that Dylan fails to “explain why and how the theme has affected his own songs.”

Gjestad, who accuses Dylan of laziness, makes no effort checking the clues Dylan includes, where he, even in lecture, breaks out in poetry inspired by the same works: “Here’s a face. I’ll put it in front of you. Read it if you can.” Gjestad can´t. The obvious link to “Moby Dick” found in “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”, the obvious relationship between “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Dylan’s thematic mini version in “John Brown”, or how the last album of Dylan´s own songs is immersed in inspiration from the “Odyssey”, including this passage with direct quotation, in “Early Roman Kings”: “I can strip you of life / Strip you of breath / Ship you down / To the house of death.” Well, this might be some of the relevant examples of the metabolism that Dylan illuminates and illustrates, describes and exemplifies, between songs and literature, not just for him, but also for other songwriters. Conscious and unconscious. It is based on the same classic themes over the centuries. In song as in literature. This is the strong relationship that Dylan in the first section just proclaims that he wants to reflect around. From his point of view.

I am also suprised that Gjestad fails to mention the important introduction of the lecture. More than anything, this contains exactly what Gjestad calls for, – pictorial, engaging, and direct talk about Dylan’s inspirations, represented here by Buddy Holly and Leadbelly, and describing the meetings with those artists as almost religious experiences – Buddy Holly who “looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something” and about listening to Leadbelly: “It was like somebody laid hands on me.” An important message of why the song and song lyricism became Dylan’s course, and not the path of an author. He explains how he internalized the magic and imagery rich language of the folk tradition, and how this became the starting point for his own song lyrics. Then he tells us about how the mix of world literature and this language helped him reach the goal – writing songs that differ from what anyone had heard before, and how the great literature was one of the sources that helped him to do this. To create “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”, which later became the reason for his Nobel Prize. The introduction leaves no doubt about that more than anything else, it´s the music, the songs and the songwriting that makes Dylan tick. Well, many of us has in various forms heard this before, but this lecture obviously has a wider audience than the regular Dylan fans. Dylan makes no attempt to embrace the finer literary lounges by describing his choice of song and the poetry of the ear as a goal and guideline. “Our songs are alive in the country of the living.”

The story of Dylan and the Nobel Prize, by the way, assumes already mythical dimensions, all the while, many, including Gjestad, twists the story to get attention, more than to enlighten. He even says that Dylan is almost forced to give this lecture and that he also may only do it for the money. Another possible narrative would be based on the first interview with Dylan after the Nobel Prize winner was announced, on Swedish Academy’s Sara Danius  referring to her conversation with Dylan, and the beautiful speech on the banquet, which in every way radiated respect for the award. That parts of the press like sheep are checking in to Dylan’s eternal cat and mouse game with them, not wishing anyone to set or influence his agenda, not least the press, well, it’s just so predictable and certainly not enlightened journalism. Dylan is in literature, and literature is in him, worthy of a Nobel Prize winner. But – he is, and becomes, first and foremost a singer, as he also cites Homer in the end: “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.” Then he is a poet songwriter, and then he is the Nobel Prize winner. That’s how it is. Whoever has ears, let him hear.

Johnny Borgan




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