With all due respect to “every hippie English teacher” — and to the Swedes who each year give their imprimatur to some august literary giant whom most people may (or may not) have heard of — what Bob Dylan writes is not literature.
How do we know that? Try this quick and easy experiment: separate the music from the words and you’ll find that, from a literary standpoint at least, the lyrics sound far less impressive, and, in many instances, more than a little threadbare.
That is not the case with Canada’s Leonard Cohen, who was a genuine poet and novelist long before he became a singer-songwriter. His lyrics, for the most part, are sheer poetry, and can stand on their own. (As an example, I would direct your attention to the words of “Alexandra Leaving,” which are transcendentally ravishing.)
Dylan’s body of work is certainly worthy of acknowledgment. But he deserves a prize that puts him in the same company as, say, Woody Guthrie and Irving Berlin, and not one that links him to the likes of T.S. Eliot and Saul Bellow.And now--one of my favorite Dylan songs (which, in its day, was not considered politically incorrect, but which today, were it written at all, would likely be about Quinn the Inuit):
You know what--jumping queues and making haste ain't my cup of meat, either.