Many have questioned the accolade – but there is no question that he is a singular talent – even if he’s not really a poet.
(ed:..of course dylan deserves his nobel prize – and while we are at it – yes – leonard cohen and joni mitchell also deserve one..)
Back when I belatedly purchased my first Dylan record in the early 1970s glam rock and progressive rock were the two predominant pop genres and Dylan was little more than a rumour.
The record in question was John Wesley Harding (1967) – which I bought solely because it was on sale at a reduced price that matched my meagre means.
For the uninitiated it is an austere collection of songs with stripped-to-the-bone musical accompaniment – written almost 50 years ago so the story goes with the King James Bible and the songs of Hank Williams as its spirit guides.
Perhaps because it was my first encounter with Bob Dylan it intrigues me still in a way that other much more groundbreaking and critically lauded Dylan albums do not.
It seems a good place to begin to try to make sense of why the Nobel academy broke with tradition to canonise a songwriter rather than a novelist or dramatist.
Unbeknown to me when I first encountered it in the early seventies John Wesley Harding was the first evidence of Dylan’s long retreat from his earlier era-defining music and his own mythology.
The albums that followed it – from the wilfully perverse easy listening of Self Portrait (1970) to the mildly intriguing Planet Waves (1974) – seemed designed first and foremost to confound the very idea of Bob Dylan.
In retrospect I was fortunate to begin my journey into Dylan with John Wesley Harding.
Though pared down musically and lyrically it is a record steeped in allusion – from the opening song which makes reference to the radical 18th-century thinker Tom Paine – to I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine which remains as far as I now,the only pop song to namecheck the controversial 4th-century Christian theologian.
(ed:..john wesley harding would be one of my favourite dylan albums – it has lost none of its’ power – and perhaps hangs together best – as an album should – and so can be listened to from go to whoa! with consummate ease.
’tis a masterpiece..)