Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate?
The announcement Thursday that American musician Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize for Literature came as no surprise to Alfred University faculty members who grew up under the sway of Dylan’s influence, and even incorporate his work in their classes.
“I’m thrilled,” says AU English Professor Rob Reginio.
Reginio has taught an AU honors level course in Dylan, “Bob Dylan and America,” and he recently lectured on Dylan at a conference in Baltimore and also published an essay on Dylan’s role in the history of race relations in the United States.
As a professor of literature, Reginio says Dylan’s lyrics “fit in the English poetic tradition – a combination of William Shakespeare and the early 20th century American bluesman Blind Willie McTell. He makes us think about how rock and roll can be poetry, and what, alternatively, poetry can be.”
AU Philosophy Professor Emrys Westacott says he frequently alludes to Dylan and quotes Dylan lyrics in his philosophy classes. A Beatles fan, Westacott teaches classes in modern philosophy, including existentialism, in which Dylan’s lyrics in “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” provide a popular illustration of more complicated philosophical issues.
“Sometimes I quote him and use his songs as a sort of overture to the class,” Westacott says. Dylan’s 1964 ballad “The Times They Are A’Changing” is a useful introduction to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and Westacott has also used “North Country Blues” when teaching Marx’s Capital in his course “Revolution and Culture.”
Reginio adds there have been reports in the past of the Nobel Committee awarding the Nobel Prize to Dylan, but Dylan’s work, he says, is rooted so firmly in popular culture he may have been regarded as too “low” for a Nobel honor.
“This award is a validation of all those American voices, from Woody Guthrie to Chuck Berry, that have been relegated to folk and popular genres of music,” Reginio observes.
And even though Dylan began his career in the early 1960’s – two generations ago -- his reputation still endures among younger audiences. “When I go to see Bob live, there’s always a very large contingent of college-aged fans there,” Reginio says. “And that’s great to see.”