I remember sitting in a rocking chair outside a dorm, whose name I can’t remember, on a day that ended in y. I was listening to the first twenty seconds of Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright. I listened, stopped, rewound . Rinse, wash, and repeat for ten minutes. At the time, I thought the guitar line was beautiful and complex, and the best thing I ever heard or would ever hear.
After about six months of noodling around on the guitar, I learned the twenty seconds that had captivated me were nothing more than a four note ascending line over a C major scale leading into a I-V-iv-VI chord progression in C with a travis fingerstyle pattern, and all added the flourishes of an extra hook of the E string on the first C chord and two hammer ons over the A chord. But, I still had no idea what Bob Dylan meant when he sang, “the ghosts of electricity howl through bones of her face,” on Visions of Johanna, where he was announced as the winner of Nobel Prize in Literature on October 13.
Mr. Dylan, 75, entered the national spotlight in the 1960’s with his successful folk songs protesting the vietnam war and “the man”, though he was never so gouache to phrase it like that.
He controversially replaced the folk with blues rock style across a trilogy of albums: Bringing it All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisted (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966).
Since then, he has dabbled in numerous genres: Country in Nashville Skyline (1969); gospel and country in Slow Train Coming (1979); and as of recent, he has even recorded Shadows in the Night (2015), a collection of Sinatra covers.
Throughout all this experimentation and change, Mr. Dylan has had shown two constants: The first is his voice and the second, his lyrics. His voice: Even if you’ve never heard of any of these albums, you’ve probably heard their sound it. A raspy wail, which has only gotten raspier with age, that sees the correct key for a song and turns defiantly in the other direction. His lyrics: it’s impossible to do justice to this man’s lyrics but that won’t stop me from trying. Just go listen to them. Your life will be better because of it.
Some of my best, saddest, and sharpest memories are directly connected to Mr. Dylan’s lyrics. Seeing my Senior english teacher’s eyes come alive like a child’s on christmas morning, and seeing him throw himself violently off the back of his chair in excitement when I brought up my tangling with, “the ghosts of electricity howl through the bones of her face.”
Connecting with a girl over “You’re a Big Girl Now” from Blood on The Tracks (1975), and then later, after breaking up with that same girl a few months later, laughing alone and deliriously at Mr. Dylan’s wailing, “I’m not saying you treated me unkind, you could have done better but I don’t mind. You just kinda wasted my precious time,” on “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”.
Learning and singing, albeit poorly, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” to a friend who was having a terrible month and watching her become happy before my eyes.
Finally, listening to “Visions” with a group of friends sitting on a roof, shooting the shit (as teenagers do, you know) and watching the sunset.
I could go on, but for the sake of time, and your sanity, I’ll try to summarize. Mr. Dylan’s lyrics are like a good smell. Just as you can’t quite put the smell of fresh cut grass into words, if someone asked you to describe his lyrics, you just can’t quite do it. But as soon as you smell the fresh cut grass, you instantly jump back in time to summer as a child, playing with your friends, learning to ride bikes and eating popsicles. Whenever I hear “Visions”, I jump back to that roof.
And yet, there are some that vehemently argue that it is a travesty that a “pop poet” was awarded the Nobel Prize when there are much more deserving candidates, and that, “If the written word is truly up against the art of songwriting for the greatest literary prize in all the land, ‘baby, baby, baby, oh baby’ is going to win every time.” To which I say, Shakespeare was partial to a good fart joke.
Cheers, Mr. Dylan.
Anthony Del Rosso is a first-year who wore New Balances to prom.