I hope Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature will help me to persuade our children that he’s worth listening to. At the moment, whenever I put on a song of his in the car they sing out in unison: “It’s Krusty the Clown!” It is not surprising, I suppose. They are currently wedded to Tinie Tempah and the like (who, admittedly, can be catchy).
I love Bob Dylan’s music and his unconventional singing voice is part of the attraction. What is it that appeals? Strong feeling, surging tunes, a sense of being connected to history – his rewriting of American folk music, “at once a recapturing of the past and the opening of a door to what had never been heard and had never been said”, as the rock writer Greil Marcus has it.
As well as that, there’s the pleasure of his irreducibly baffling language – often, as in I Want You, for instance, mixed with a repeated, plain lyric to powerful effect.
He can also set very simple words to heart-rending melodies. We should not turn up our noses at Make You Feel My Love just because it is comprehensible or because Adele has had a hit with it.
Then there’s the Bible. Dylan is steeped in it – even putting to one side his 1980s “Christian” phase – and once you become aware of it you see it everywhere.
In September 1997 he performed Blowin’ in the Wind in front of Pope John Paul II and 300,000 Catholic young people in Bologna. Afterwards, the Pope told the crowd that yes, the answer was in the wind, but not in the wind that blows things away, “in the wind of the Spirit” that would lead them to God.
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