Thoughts On Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

In awarding their prize for literature to Bob Dylan, the Nobel powers-that-be must realize that they are acknowledging not just contemporary music’s most influential lyricist of the last 60 years but also the role that music has played in a wider sense.

When Dylan’s song “The Times They Are A-Changin’” came to prominence in the early ’60s, it struck me as a profound manifesto signaling a major shift in the Western World’s political and social life. I know I was not alone in that view. Never was literature more representative of a community. Rarely has literature been more of a stimulus for thought and action.

Together with the Beatles and others, Dylan helped create a new mindset for a generation emerging into adulthood. In those early days in rock music history, it was a struggle to persuade established cultural mavens that these songwriters were creating anything more than ephemeral drivel.

So, for me, this prize is vindication for all of us who saw and see the value of contemporary music, both as a statement and as an art form. Surely there’s room in literature for new templates. Dylan, and by extension his peers, have made their case, and deserve recognition alongside writers of prose and poetry.

How and whether Dylan accepts the prize is another matter. It will be interesting to see how he handles it. The musical context he emerged from was one of rebellion, protest and, at the very least, unorthodoxy. But now that there’s a hall of fame and rock anthems are commandeered by TV advertisers and supermarket soundtracks, does music of Dylan’s generation still have a claim on cultural insurgence?

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Turning On With Cliff Richard

 

News that British singer Cliff Richard will be boycotted by a new ’60s-format radio station will no doubt have a mixed reception from those of us who still remember that hallowed decade.

There will be those like me who feel that the ’60s were not Sir Cliff’s brightest hour in any case. Somehow the lean breathy vocalist of ’50s hits like “Living Doll” turned into the jaunty exponent of “Summer Holiday” and other songs indicative of a widening rift in pop music tastes. The Far Four were on the horizon, and Cliff seemed destined for a permanent holiday.

Predictably then, the Cliff Richard song that will ever sing to my heart is from the ’50s. “Travellin’ Light” was his sixth single if I’m counting right. It’s a nice tune and a nice sentiment, but what really lingers with me is the image of it I had in my head.

For me, “Travellin’ Light” generated a mental picture of a light bulb floating through the ether. Perhaps my child’s mind associated it with the copy of William Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light Of The World” which hung over my bed. A light on the move seemed so much more romantic than rushing off to see some girl.

Usually the bulb in my imaginings was travelling in a train carriage, back when British Railway carriages had an aisle running alongside separate compartments. (Those carriages may still be around. I don’t know. I don’t travel on British trains very often now.)

Anyway – that light bulb. You have to remember I was quite young at the time. All the same, the memory of that weirdly glowing sphere on its journeys up and down the commuter lines has stuck with me.

Was I permanently warped by this misinterpretation? If so, the journey has not been solitary. You never know what enters people’s heads when they listen to a lyric, the classic example being Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”. Scuse me while I kiss this guy …

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