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One of the greatest honors that a literary figure could receive is the Nobel Prize in Literature, but what if this achievement is awarded to a singer instead of the traditional writer or poet? The Nobel Prize in Literature is a prize that is awarded yearly, typically to an author, who has produced outstanding work in the field of literature. The award is presented based on the individual’s work as a whole, not just one particular component. One noteworthy winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is Bob Dylan who obtained the award in 2016. This American, folk singer and songwriter was said to have won the honor ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’ His songs have been influenced by the poets of modernism and the bohemian era, while his lyrics incorporate social struggles and political protest. Even though Bob Dylan’s writing style and presentation of his works may be untraditional when it comes to placing him alongside the same standards as previous recipients, he deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature because he has effectively been able to tell stories through his meaningful lyrics as a different form of art.
This astounding honor sheds more light on the amazing work Bob Dylan has done and demonstrates the countless lives he has touched all across the world. In 2016 when Dylan received the award, he was just as surprised as anyone else was at the time and had expressed that during his acceptance speech. He believes that “if a song moves you, that’s all that’s important. [You] don’t have to know what a song means.” A song has the same ability to move a person as a poem or other form of written material does because it depends on how the reader or listener interprets it. It is important that the work of art had meaning, and in this case, Dylan’s words do. They are able to move and inspire people, while also informing them and telling stories. In addition, he is said to have won “for inventing ways to make songs do what they hadn’t done before” (Sheffield 2). Dylan stands out from other artists because his songs have such deep meaning, allowing the listener to easily understand. He attacks real life issues and is able to grab the attention of the listener, making them interested and caring about the subject that underlies his music. In his song “The Times They Are a-Changin”, he sings “Come senators, congressmen/ Please heed the call/ Don’t stand in the doorway/ Don’t block up the hall/ For he that gets hurt/ Will be he who has stalled/ There’s a battle outside/ And it is ragin’/ t’ll soon shake your windows/ And rattle your walls/ For the times they are a-changin’.” (Dylan 1964). Years prior to the release of this song, Dylan had said that he wanted to write song that had a lot of meaning, with short concise verses that piled up upon one another to create some sort of hypnotic illusion. At the time, the civil rights movement and the folk music movement were closely linked for a while. Dylan used this opportunity to express his feelings on the matter and called to the people and American government to realize the real issue at hand, all in the form of song.
When paired with music, or lacking that aspect, lyrics may have a greater impact than words written in a poem because it provides people with a deeper understanding and connection to what is being presented to them.
The way language is conveyed and utilized in songs has the ability to express emotions that would be hard to get across in most works of writing.
Some may argue that although Bob Dylan has qualified for and has earned countless different musical awards in his career, he does not deserve the Nobel Prize in Literature because his writing style does not encompass the normal terms to which the average winners meet regularly. In the New York Times article, “Why Bob Dylan Shouldn’t Have Gotten a Nobel”, Anna North expresses her views on why Dylan was not qualified to receive the award. She states that the committee should “have chosen a writer who has made significant innovations in the form, … a writer from the developing world, which remains woefully underrepresented among Nobel laureates” or “a writer who has built an audience primarily online”. The 2016 win of the Nobel Prize in Literature should have been awarded to someone who has made an impact on the world with their writing and work overall. Since Dylan is already a well known artist across the world, a new writer missed the opportunity to be recognized for their impactful work. In the article, North goes on to say that Dylan “is great because he is a great musician, and when the Nobel committee gives the literature prize to a musician, it misses the opportunity to honor a writer”. Bob Dylan is internationally famous and he has already had a lot of worldwide recognition by receiving many music awards, so he does not need to add this win to his long list of accomplishments. North purely uses this method in order to introduce qualifiers into her writing, and uses this fact to illustrate the importance of this to other writers who she claims to be much more worthy of the prize. However, Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature expresses a paradigm shift because everyone who has won the award before him was a traditional writer but, as a singer and songwriter, he broke the preexisting trend. In the article “Why Bob Dylan deserves his Nobel literature win” it is argued that “in the work of Bob Dylan, the words and the music cannot be separated. Take your favorite Dylan line… Whichever it is, when you say them to yourself, as we all do in times of need, you’ll be hearing his voice, his sound, his music.” Bob Dylan’s work is clearly unlike any other musical artists. His music and his lyrics are able to convey messages that they are not initially intended to. This allows him to have the same effect on people as does a writer or a poet.
The Nobel Prize in Literature is an amazing honor that any literary figure would be lucky to obtain one day in their career. However, when singer and songwriter, Bob Dylan won the award in 2016 it took the world by storm. Even though he is not a traditional winner for the award, he still deserves to be recognized and earn the Nobel Prize as he has been able to accomplish the same amount, if not more, than previous nominees. After Dylan has broken the preexisting trend of the winners being writers, I think that another musician could be able to win the prize as well. Someone who may be good choice for the Nobel Prize in Literature in the future could be singer and songwriter, Frank Ocean.
Bob Dylan often served as a voice for those who could not speak. He used his status to shed light on the many social injustices present in society throughout the 1960s and beyond. In his song “Oxford Town”, Dylan’s storytelling educated listeners on the misfortunes that minorities had to encounter in daily life.
The song that I will be analyzing is Dylan’s 1963 song titled “Oxford Town”. While the song is much shorter than most of Dylan’s other songs, the story behind the lyrics remains a monumental part of American history. It is well known that the song is based on the story of James Meredith and how he became the first African-American student enrolled at the University of Mississippi in 1962 (Longley). Dylan wrote this song for a competition held by Broadside magazine, an underground music magazine (Glaser), in which they were holding an open invitation for songs about Meredith’s story. Ultimately, Dylan’s song was chosen and was recorded and released in 1963.
Lyrically, “Oxford Town” outlines Meredith’s journey of becoming a student at the University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss, and gives an overview of the problems he encountered along the way. The lines “He went down to Oxford Town. Guns and clubs followed him down. All because his face was brown.” describe the beginning of Meredith’s story. Dylan uses the term “Oxford Town” in the song because Ole Miss is located in the town of Oxford, Mississippi. The locals around Ole Miss did not welcome Meredith with open arms. He was subjected to extreme racism and racial tensions were high around this time due to the Civil Rights Movement. The following lines continue to express the racism occurring as James Meredith was trying to attend the university. Dylan says, “He couldn’t get in. All because of the color of his skin.” At first, James Meredith’s application to Ole Miss was accepted, but was rejected once the university discovered that he was African American. However, Meredith should have been accepted because the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka protected his rights as an African American. In the case, it was declared that segregation in schools and universities violated the Fourteenth Amendment, thus making segregation unconstitutional (Duignan). With this, Meredith took the University of Mississippi to court in order to be allowed to be a student there. The U.S. Supreme Court requested the University of Mississippi to accept Meredith’s application, but this ruling was met with massive public outcry (Longley). When Meredith arrived on campus, riots broke out in hopes of stopping him from registering for classes. Dylan incorporates the severity of these riots in the song with these lines, “Me and my gal, my gal’s son, we got met with a tear gas bomb”. As the riots escalated and attracted thousands of people at nightfall, U.S. Marshals tried to control the scene with tear gas. The concluding lines of the song describes the outcome of the riots. Dylan says, “Two men died ‘neath the Mississippi moon, somebody better investigate soon”. Despite the Marshals’ efforts to calm down the riots, two men, Paul Guihard and Ray Gunter, were killed (Sitton). Dylan remembers the two lives lost and appears to be addressing the fact that they deserved justice.
As stated earlier, this song is much shorter and less complex than Dylan’s other songs. There doesn’t seem to be any hidden meanings behind the lyrics, instead Dylan showcased James Meredith’s experience in an easy-to-follow way. Dylan inserted himself into the song, making it sound like he was present at the riots. However, Dylan was not actually there. He did this to press the idea that these instances could happen anywhere, and that outsiders must speak up to make a change. In the song, Dylan mentions leaving Oxford Town and going back to where he comes from, meaning that Oxford is not somewhere he wishes to be due to the extreme racism there. In addition, Dylan connects with listeners by calling them his friends, as he has done in previous songs. Dylan is asking listeners to ponder the idea that people are mistreated simply because of their skin color. He knows that this is wrong, and hopes to make listeners see this as well.
Bob Dylan’s “Oxford Town” stands as a moment in history encapsulated in a song. He recounts the struggles that James Meredith encountered while trying to attend the University of Mississippi, and also touches on the terrible riots that took two lives. Dylan uses a more simple storytelling approach, unlike his other songs, to make his points clear. “Oxford Town” remains relevant in today’s society because it shows the history of mistreatment that African Americans and other minorities have dealt with in the past, which unfortunately still occurs today in some instances.
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