Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

A Nobel for Bob Dylan? “Grow up!” says a guy who is still on a rant about it.

Monday, August 19th, 2019

I’ve been privileged to know three Nobel writers in my life, though my connection with Seamus Heaney was only a brief, epistolary one. So to see songwriter Bob Dylan placed in the same empyrean in 2016 … well, it gave me pause. 

It gave one other writer a lot more than that. Professor and blogger Akim Reinhardt over at the esteemed 3quarksdaily wrote a long rant today called,“I Have A Concussion And Can’t Write 2,000 New Words, So Here’s An Old, Unpublished Essay About How Ridiculous It Is That Bob Dylan Won A Nobel.”

An excerpt or two:

Ugh. Bob Dylan.

Even though we’re well into the 21st century and half the Baby Boomers are collecting Social Security, they’re still determined to thumb their noses at their parents. Even the Swedish ones, apparently. So Bob Dylan gets a Nobel Prize in Literature.

I told you, daaaaaaaaad! My music is art toooo! Seeee?

You know what? You’re dad’s dead. Grow up. Find a new battle to fight. Go argue with your grandkids or something.

Bob Dylan. Jesus.

The guy plagiarized substantial portions of the only prose book he ever wrote, his 2005 memoir. You’d think that right there would disqualify a writer from winning the world’s most prestigious lifetime literary award. But this is the Age of Truthiness, so I guess all bets are off.

Nobel? Puleez!

After the announcement, predictability set in.  Would he or wouldn’t he accept? Yawn. Shortly before the deadline for handing in an acceptance speech or else have the offer of a tacky medallion and substantial monetary award rescinded, like the miserable teenage stoner that he is, Dylan predictably submitted a plagiarized essay, replete with classic misinterpretation of Moby Dick, and cribbed in part from the cheating industry’s 300 lb. gorilla, Spark Notes.

Good. That’s exactly what the Swedish Academy deserves for putting its finest lipstick on a clever little pig.

High literary crimes and misdemeanors aside, however, the real issue of course is merit. When I think of great literature, I think of words that offer penetrating insight into the human condition. But I was 14 years old the last time I thought a Dylan song carried that kind of punch. Lounging in the backseat of my parents’ ‘69 Buick LeSabre, “Blowin’ in the Wind” came on the AM radio.

“Wow, that is so deep,” I thought to myself unironically.

Did I mention I was 14? I was also really moved by paintings of big-breasted women with swords.

Not long after that, however, the bloom came off. Part of it was my increasing revulsion with the cultish adulation heaped upon Dylan, of people solemnly praising the “bard,” “the master.”  Of straight-faced people putting him on a par with William Shakespeare, a not uncommon sentiment during the 1970s.



Don’t get me wrong. Dylan wrote some great songs. But his lyrics are quite erratic in quality. Their “literary artistry” profits immeasurably from the musical enhancements of his song craft, which is often excellent. Dude knows chords and melody, and always surrounds himself with top notch musicians, producers, and engineers. But I think a lot of his words, when printed naked on the page, get exposed as pretentious, and even trite. At his best, Bob Dylan never struck me as the divine wordsmith that so many people make him out to be.

At the very least, I think it’s quite safe to say that he’s nowhere near the greatest English language lyricist of the 20th century. Authors such as Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein, and Townes Van Zant, to name just a few, blow him away. Really, the list just goes on and on and on.

I know. They’re all dead, and therefore ineligible to win a Nobel. However, simply because the Nobel Committee was too stodgy to give the literature prize to a lyricist back when any of those folks were still alive is really no reason to give it to Dylan now that they’ve finally digested postmodernism and are willing to move beyond the rigid boundaries of staid categories.

Read the rest here.

No surprise that the literature award was suspended the following year. The shame, the shame.

Jonah Lehrer – the verdict is in: “He dresses like a Palo Alto geek.”

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Lehrer: Is geekdom enough?

The fortunes of Jonah Lehrer have risen and fallen … perhaps to rise again.  Damian Thompson writes in an article in London’s Telegraph“The Fall of the Hipster Intellectual”:

On Monday he resigned from the New Yorker magazine after what the New York Times described as “one of the most bewildering recent journalistic frauds”. Bewildering because Lehrer is cool, modest and smart. His postmodern CV leaps from neuroscience at Columbia to literature at Oxford; he dresses like a Palo Alto geek.

“He dresses like a Palo Alto geek.”  This, of course, throws a whole new light on the situation.  Who knew my little burg is famous?  I live in a place that has become a stereotype.  A Palo Alto geek … am I one?  I gulp hard and look in dismay at my worn jeans, my secondhand t-shirt, the sweater I found on a bench outside Stanford’s Green Library decades ago. More to the point:  If he dresses like “a Palo Alto geek” – can he be said to be a hipster at all?

Naturally, I did a google search for “palo alto geek” and turned up the following photo (below), captioned:  “Dragon Quest fans were treated to these ‘Be My ValenSlime’ T’s at creator Yuji Hori’s Palo Alto appearance over the weekend. Plus, the lucky fans got to buy Dragon Quest VI two days before release. Sigh, we’ll just add this to the list of reasons we wish we lived in Cali.” Note bene: Cali, the writer says, not Palo Alto.

"Dragon Quest" fans prepare for a formal-dress event.

I learned that Palo Alto even boasts a hotel for geeks, which offers “Free WiFi, the bagged lunch you can grab on your way out to a pitch meeting, and the whiteboard surfaces for late-night brainstorming sessions.” One commenter sneered:  “To become a real Geek Hotel, they have to arm themselves with a lot more than just iPads and free WIFI. How much Bandwidth do I share with the 42 other Rooms? What is the Latency of the Connection for Games? Do they have PS3 & Wii for Lend-out? Or a Boardroom with the lastest Gamer-Rigs for Weekend-Clan Parties?!”

We digress. Thompson continues on Lehrer’s plight:

“Anyway, he’s in a real pickle, because in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works he fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan. That was stupid. Dylan exegetes have memorised his every word; you might as well misquote the Torah and expect the Hasidim not to notice.

“Also, when journalist Michael Moynihan chased up those quotes – intended to show how the right hemisphere of Bob’s brain rearranged nonsensical thoughts – Lehrer told a pack of lies. The fibs were plausible, involving supposed unreleased archival footage. Unfortunately for him, Moynihan is a Dylan expert. Jonah ended up digging a very deep grave for himself.

“Sweeping statements are all the rage in the school of pop science that produced Lehrer, so here’s one for you. He’s a victim of digital culture.”

Reason #1, according to Thompson:  “the software that allows writers to cut, paste, tweak and borrow words also makes it easy to uncover plagiarism.”

Palo Alto dinner party (Photo: Scott Beale)

The second trap is more subtle: “the fad for books in which a light bulb goes on and everything is illuminated: apparently random events are tied together by the Big Idea.” He continues:

“Lehrer’s theory of creativity is too muddled to sum up neatly, but there’s evidence of clumsy shoehorning on almost every page. Long before the Dylan lie was discovered, critics had mocked Imagine for its slippery elisions. Shakespeare, Nike, Pixar and the brain: Lehrer had something misleading to say about all of them.

“In places, Imagine borders on parody. It talks about the left-field creativity that produced a disposable mop, the Swiffer. ‘That insight changed floor cleaning forever,’ says Lehrer.

“Today’s digital market seeks to satisfy the appetites of intellectually curious people with very short attention spans. The result is a deluge of books, blogs, online lectures and web apps that offer to unpack the world for us by playing multidisciplinary leapfrog.

“This scandal should make us think carefully about the methodology underlying many of these claims. We don’t need any more hipster ‘intellectuals’ telling us what traffic lights in Tbilisi and the mating habits of the duck-billed platypus reveal about Why Stuff Happens. Lehrer is a potentially brilliant exponent of proper science. I hope his career recovers from this scandal. But I hope the genre doesn’t.”

In my not-so-hipster thinking that’s just being a smart ass.  A very old-fashioned kind of thing.

Postscript on 8/6:  A pungent example of the two sentences above:  See Evgeny Mozorov‘s “The Naked and the TED” in the current New Republic, here“’When I look at the 21st century, I reverse the numbers around and I see the 12th century.’ This is probing stuff.


Nobel prizewinner … Bob Dylan? What on earth is going on?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

In Spain, 2010 (Photo: Vitoria Gasteiz)

Can you believe that Bob Dylan, who had fallen off the charts a few days ago, has now risen to #1 for this year’s Nobel Literature Prize?

He’s been given 5:1 odds, putting him ahead of Syrian poet Adonis, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, and the Hungarian writer Peter Nadas.

What is going on?  “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…”

The eminently worthy Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer has fallen to #6.  Down Under poet Les Murray has climbed to #8.  Cormac McCarthy, last summer’s #1 heartthrob, has dropped to #12.  You can check out some of the other punters at Ladbrokes here.

Dylan has regularly figured at the bottom of the lists for years – like Communist Party candidate Gus Hall used to in the presidential elections.  But for no reason anyone knows, the songwriter shot to the top of the list overnight on Tuesday.  According to a Washington Post blog:

…overnight on Tuesday, Dylan’s odds jumped from 100/1 to 10/1. Wednesday, the site had his odds for winning at 5/1, beating out all other contenders. Ladbrookes reported that 80 percent of all bets in a 12-hour period went to Dylan.

Earlier this summer, the singer was nominated for the $50,000 Neustadt international prize for literature, often considered a precursor to the Nobel, losing to Indian-Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry. He won a “special citation” Pulitzer in 2008.  Is he headed for better things?

Ladbrokes hopes not.  It said it would have “a significant five-figure payout” on its hands if Dylan wins the Nobel on Thursday, according to the Guardian:

“We’ve seen enough activity from the right people to suggest Dylan now has a huge chance this year. If he doesn’t make the shortlist at least there will be some seriously burnt fingers,” said spokesman Alex Donohue. “As Dylan said, money doesn’t talk, it swears. If he does the business there might be a few expletives from us as well.”

The Washington Post cited the lyrics of another song:

… could be the bettors are taking gambling advice from Dylan’s own songs: “Make your money while you can, before you have to stop, / For when you pull that dead man’s hand, your gamblin’ days are up.”

Postscript:  The new #2  is Algerian novelist and filmmaker Assia Djebar.  Ever hear of her?  Someone is fooling with us …

And Vaclev Havel made it to #38 today, on his 75th birthday.

“As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it.” – V.H.