The Poet of My Generation Wins the Nobel Prize
Each year I have the privilege of addressing the first year class the day they start medical school. I try to give them a sense of the quality of the medical school they are joining, the rigors that the next four years will bring, and the marvelous opportunities a career in medicine provides. I emphasize that I want them to be restless, to pay attention to the important roles physicians play in our society, and to strive to be involved in our health care system. Most importantly, I tell them that it’s critically important that they strive to do something special. In the last few years, I have ended my speech by leaving them with a poem. I say to them, let me finish with a small gift from me to you, the words of the poet of my generation. Some of you may have heard of him; his name is Bob Dylan. In his wonderful song,Forever Young, Dylan says:
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
I have been a Dylan fan for as long as I can remember, well at least since 1964 when The Times They are a-Changin’ was released. I have seen him live many times, have dozens of his records, own countless CD’s and have a few Dylan books on my shelf. I’ve studied his lyrics, sang his songs, strummed his tunes, and embedded many of his words in my presentations.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was on October 13th when it was announced, to a somewhat shocked crowd at the Royal Academy Hall in Stockholm, that Dylan will be this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.1 Dylan joins Pearl Buck, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Toni Morrison, and others, as American greats who have won the prize.2
The Rolling Stone magazine applauded the fact the award, the first ever won by a musician, was given to Dylan. They said: “The Nobel committee got this right – Dylan’s ongoing achievement in American song is a literary feat to celebrate in this gaudiest of ways. The fact that he’s won this award – yet another scandalous international incident to add to his resume – is something to celebrate as well.”3
Famous novelist, Salmon Rushdie wrote on why the lyrics in Dylan’s songs equated to literature. He said, “We live in a time of great lyricist-songwriters – Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits – but Dylan towers over everyone. His words have been an inspiration to me ever since I first heard a Dylan album at school, and I am delighted by his Nobel win.”4
The decision, however, was not received well by everyone, with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh labeling it an “ill conceived nostalgia award”. The Scottish novelist and playwright tweeted: “I’m a Dylan fan, but this is an ill conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”5
U.K. Telegraph historian Tim Stanley “accused the committee of attempting to “please the crowd” in a column headlined, “A world that gives Bob Dylan a Nobel Prize is a world that nominates Trump for president.”6
All that said, I am pleased! Think about it…the magic of the words.
How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died?
I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.
You better start swimming or sink like a stone, cause the times they are a-changing.
The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.
Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.
Heard ten thousand whispering and nobody listening. Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughing. Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter.
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.7
I will continue to share Dylan with my students. In fact, as I finish this blog, I am going downstairs, pulling Blonde on Blonde from my record collection, and dimming the lights, I will listen quietly to the beauty of Visions of Johanna.
If you have any thoughts about Dylan’s Nobel Prize, respond to the blog, or better yet, please drop by the Macklem House and we’ll share a song or two.