Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head / and pretend that he just doesn’t see?

Growing up in Harpswell, Maine, I was always conscious of the wind. The Atlantic Ocean was our front yard, and our house was completely exposed. Even playing in the woods as a child, I thought the wind was trying to tell me something.  I first heard Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind in 1973, during my last year in high school. Someone played it for me. Even though the song had come out 10 years earlier, when I was 7, I never owned the record as a young person. I didn’t have the money, and I didn’t have anything to play the record on.

As a child, I sensed the wind had a restless, secretive quality. The song’s argument that the answers to life’s vexing questions are blowing around in the wind and that you just have to listen to hear them resonated with me.

From the start, I knew that “Blowin’ in the Wind” was a protest song, that the wind was a metaphor for a rising countercultural movement in the ’60s. But for years, I heard the song solely as a lyric.

Now I experience the song differently when I hear it on my iPhone and put the lyric in today’s context. After Dylan’s acoustic guitar opens the song, his voice is remarkably melodic and softly insistent.

As he sings, the line that catches my ear reminds me not to overlook what’s right in front of us:

“Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head / and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”

Many of us walk past people living on the sidewalk asking for money and either ignore them or never see them. That’s what makes the song so special: The words constantly take on fresh meaning.

But much depends on where you hear them. In 1978, I went to my first Dylan concert in Augusta, Maine. He performed “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but it wasn’t quite the same as hearing his original recording.  There were too many people there for the song to be personal, and the song’s intent was brought down to an earthly level. Like the wind, the song is best experienced alone.

~ Elizabeth StroutElizabeth Strout on ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, As a writer grows up, a Dylan song changes meaning. (wsj.com, July 11, 2017).  Elizabeth Strout, 61, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of six novels, including her latest, “Anything Is Possible” and her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge.


Notes:

  • Photo of Elizabeth Strout
  • Inspired by: True singing is a different breath, about nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind.” By Rainer Maria Rilke, “Sonnet I.III,” in Duino Elegies & The Sonnets To Orpheus.

How Does It Feel

patti-smith-nobel-prize

This was so (SO) good. I’ve clipped most of her essay below but not all. Here are excerpts from Patti Smith’s How Does It Feel from the December 14, 2016 issue of The New Yorker:


…In September, I was approached to sing at the Nobel Prize ceremony, honoring the laureate for literature, who was then unknown. It would be a few days in Stockholm, in a beautiful hotel, overlooking the water—an honorable opportunity to shine, contemplate, and write. I chose one of my songs that I deemed appropriate to perform with the orchestra.

But when it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the prize and accepted, it seemed no longer fitting for me to sing my own song. I found myself in an unanticipated situation, and had conflicting emotions. In his absence, was I qualified for this task? Would this displease Bob Dylan, whom I would never desire to displease? But, having committed myself and weighing everything, I chose to sing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” a song I have loved since I was a teen-ager, and a favorite of my late husband.

From that moment, every spare moment was spent practicing it, making certain that I knew and could convey every line. Having my own blue-eyed son, I sang the words to myself, over and over, in the original key, with pleasure and resolve. I had it in my mind to sing the song exactly as it was written and as well as I was capable of doing. I bought a new suit, I trimmed my hair, and felt that I was ready.

On the morning of the Nobel ceremony, I awoke with some anxiety. It was pouring rain and continued to rain heavily…By the time I reached the concert hall, it was snowing. I had a perfect rehearsal with the orchestra. I had my own dressing room with a piano, and I was brought tea and warm soup. I was aware that people were looking forward to the performance. Everything was before me.

I thought of my mother, who bought me my first Dylan album when I was barely sixteen. She found it in the bargain bin at the five-and-dime and bought it with her tip money. “He looked like someone you’d like,” she told me. I played the record over and over, my favorite being “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” It occurred to me then that, although I did not live in the time of Arthur Rimbaud, I existed in the time of Bob Dylan. I also thought of my husband and remembered performing the song together, picturing his hands forming the chords.

And then suddenly it was time. The orchestra was arranged on the balcony overlooking the stage, where the King, the royal family, and the laureates were seated. I sat next to the conductor. The evening’s proceedings went as planned. As I sat there, I imagined laureates of the past walking toward the King to accept their medals. Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Albert Camus. Then Bob Dylan was announced as the Nobel Laureate in Literature, and I felt my heart pounding. After a moving speech dedicated to him was read, I heard my name spoken and I rose. As if in a fairy tale, I stood before the Swedish King and Queen and some of the great minds of the world, armed with a song in which every line encoded the experience and resilience of the poet who penned them.

The opening chords of the song were introduced, and I heard myself singing. The first verse was passable, a bit shaky, but I was certain I would settle. But instead I was struck with a plethora of emotions, avalanching with such intensity that I was unable to negotiate them. From the corner of my eye, I could see the the huge boom stand of the television camera, and all the dignitaries upon the stage and the people beyond. Unaccustomed to such an overwhelming case of nerves, I was unable to continue. I hadn’t forgotten the words that were now a part of me. I was simply unable to draw them out. [Read more…]

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

bob-dylan-nobel-prize-cartoon


For those who endorse awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature, the question might be: Why did the Swedish Academy wait so long? For those who oppose: A songwriter?

But there is never an expiration date on the acknowledgment of excellence, and Mr. Dylan is much more than a songwriter. One may quarrel that the award delays what appears to be the inevitable recognition by the academy of novelists Haruki Murakami and Philip Roth, among others, or that a composer for musical theater like Stephen Sondheim is the place to begin if songs are considered literature. But no one who knows Mr. Dylan’s work and its impact on his and subsequent generations of authors and composers can dispute its high quality.

To the point of whether the words to songs comprise literature: It is the rare lyric that can stand on its own without the rhythm the music provides. The irony of assessing Mr. Dylan’s words absent the accompaniment is that he changed popular music by discovering and then exploring, repeatedly and often magnificently, new ways to set distinctive narratives to melody and rhythm as in “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “Like a Rolling Stone.” There is no comparable body of work, regardless of standard of measurement, by any other artist of the rock era.

~ Jim Fusilli, excerpt from Yes, Bob Dylan Deserves the Nobel Prize


Notes:

%d bloggers like this: