October 17, 2016
Last week the music world was rocked. Not by the death of an icon, which has seemed to happen way too many time in 2016. No it was that one of music’s icon won an award. One that hardly any could conceive, but one that does in it’s own way make perfect sense.
Bob Dyan won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
For literature? Can the lyric of a song be classified as literature? Or has the literature world changed?
Does the lyrics of a song fit as literature?
One of the definitions of literature as found on Dictionary.com is “writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.”
And many have often said that many songs are poems put to music. But to me looking at the body of work of Bob Dyan, the words are not necessarily a poem. Can they be read without the music. Yes. But does it really give same feeling to the listener being read as a poem as it does being sang as a song?
When looking at one of his early compositions, one could say yes. Look at “Blowing in the Wind” for example:
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
I think it comes off just as well read as it does as a song. Perhaps more powerful as a song, but certainly many in the 50 plus years since it was written has read it without singing it.
But what about one like “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”. Its eight lines doesn’t read quite as powerful as it does being sung. Although I don’t see reason why it can’t be. But I’m also not classically train in literature.
But let’s go back to the original questions. Can the lyric of a song be classified as literature? Or has the literature world changed?
In the case of the first, can a song be classified as literature? I can’t see any reason why it can not.
But looking at, has the literature world changed? I would say that is most definite. The Nobel Prize committee has now said that Songwriters write Literature. But didn’t all of us who have been listening and enjoying music, those of us who have songs touch us so deeply that it fills the soul with gladness or grief, already know that.