Mr Zimmerman is a moody sort of guy. But I mean that in the best possible way. For fifty years or more this extraordinary poet and musician, and all round song and dance man, has been exploring the many contradictory moods of the human condition and doing so with the fine skill of a master wordsmith. I don’t profess to know much about previous winners of this supposedly prestigious literary award so I am unable to make comparisons, but I can say emphatically that BD has the enduring ability to ‘coin a phrase’ that stays with you for the rest of your damn life. There can be few men or women of words that can claim that sort of mantle. And still today, an event may present itself in the news, and one of those poignant Dylan lines pops into mind that seems to perfectly sum up the situation no matter how devilishly complex that situation may be. For that alone I would suggest that the award is well deserved.

It hasn’t always been easy. BD has produced his fair share of duds. But even the very tamest of his albums invariable has one or two gems to savour. And the weird thing is, give some of his material a long enough airing and you start to find a magic there that wasn’t immediately apparent on those first few listening's. A case in point for me was the Basement Tapes. Originally released in 1975, I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. In fact, to be honest, I found the stuff unlistenable. Then, forty years later they re-release the tapes along with the usual digital remixing and - hey presto- it’s some of the best Dylan music I’ve ever come across. I was lucky enough to get the complete six disc set for a present and now I’m totally hooked. The tapes seem to encapsulate the very spirit of the man; questioning, experimental and above all, humorous.

Then there’s the religious stuff. Not my cup of tea for sure but even here some of the songs he’s produced from this era are quite stunning. Leave aside for a moment the inane ramblings about judgement day and the afterlife, and what you have is an artist trying to create some meaning out of our meaningless universe. We all have our particular way of doing that but Dylan, being the poet that he is, takes it to another, dare I say, spiritual level. Try listening to ‘Every Grain of Sand’ and ‘Sign of the Cross’ from the official bootleg series to get a sense of what I mean. You don’t have to be a paid up born-again Christian to be able to feel the sense of spiritual wonder that Dylan is able to conjure up.

And that brings me to my main point. Dylan has a song for every conceivable mood. Not the typical banal love songs from the pop genre, but songs that tease out every conceivable human emotion; yearning, rejection, jealousy, resentment and outright hatred. And after that, forgiveness and reconciliation. We’ve all been there and Dylan has a song for that every bitter and contradictory occasion. It sounds like a horrible cliché, but the man has near on produced a soundtrack for your whole goddamn life. And if you care to listen to some of his more recent work, and here I’m referring particularly to a trilogy of albums; ‘Not Dark Yet’, ‘Love and Theft’, and ‘Modern Times’, you will find material that so deftly captures those unsettling moods that tend to creep up on you as the years close in. Some of the material on these albums are quite remarkable both in their intensity and lightness of touch. Who, amongst his song writing contemporaries, can claim to be still producing original and powerful work so late on in their careers. None I would argue, Not one. 

Then there is the overtly political stuff. They still resonate today with as much power as they did fifty years ago, when they were first released. Went to a Jeremy Corbyn rally a few weeks back and some guy was strumming a version of ‘The Times They Are A Changing’. It wasn’t a great version to be sure, but it still managed to stir the audience as they waited for JC to arrive on stage. If you want a really stirring version of that all-time great political anthem, then might I suggest getting yourself a copy of ‘Live at Budokan’. Here Dylan reworks his early acoustic classic with such power and emotion that I’ve decided to have it played at my funeral (which I believe not to be imminent, I might add). In fact, if Corbyn were to make that version his official soundtrack, I swear he would be heading straight to No 10 Downing St as our next Prime Minister.

 And while on the topic of classic political anthems, I defy anyone to argue that ‘Masters of War’ and Only a Pawn in Their Game’ are not as relevant and mindbogglingly powerful today as they were on first release half a century ago. And what has changed in those fifty years? Not a damn thing. Which makes Dylan’s words all the more poetically prophetic. Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that Dylan is a worthy recipient.

And my all-time favourite? Without doubt it has to be The Hurricane. If the Nobel Prize committee were ever doubtful as to Dylan’s literary worthiness, they need only peruse the lyrics of this wonderfully defiant piece of story-telling. It’s relentless in its anger and unremitting in its poetic intensity. But amidst the anger is a great beauty that reaches out to every nation and every citizen. The song draws a line in the sand. An injustice has been committed and it must not stand. Dylan draws that line and in so doing does all of humanity a mighty service. Congratulations Mr Zimmerman, I suspect you fully deserve your award.

End JPK Copyright 1/11/16

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