Bob Dylan has won a ``Special Citation''
Pulitzer Prize. Perhaps this is looking a gift horse in the mouth, but what about the poetry award?
We can leave aside that the Pulitzer definition of ``poetry'' excludes sung poetry: ``I'm just putting these words together,'' Dylan once said.
Although Ornette Coleman won the music award last year, this acceptance is only recent. John Coltrane got a posthumous ``special citation,'' not the music prize.
And a mature Duke Ellington wasn't given a Pulitzer because the institution thought it was improper, despite the jury's recommendation. Ellington said it
was because ``God didn't want me to get famous this young.'' He had a posthumous citation in 1999.
It is possible to say that Ellington and Coltrane made the most pertinent, prize-winning music of the 20th century, just as Dylan has written the poetry of the 20th century; the 21st too.
I asked the writer Rafi Zabor, the most widely-read person, and biggest Dylan fan, I know, what he thought, and here is part of it:
``Dylan is hugely original even if there are some precedents out there, including griots, Irish, and European bards, and even the poet we call Homer,
who if he existed, sang his epics. Dylan exploded our known song forms with a strain of prophetic, visionary poetry that had roots in Rimbaud and the Beats, and brought it into a marketplace in which tens of millions of people were hit by bracing blasts of genius and illumination".
It seems clear to me that if Dylan doesn't win in the poetry category, the Pulitzer prize doesn't mean very much.
Once you start quoting Dylan there's no end to it, But I cannot help saying that during the looting of
Baghdad some years ago, I kept hearing: ``The pumps don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles.''
It's difficult to have a serious conversation without recalling at least one Dylan citation.
Of course, Dylan has worked hard to stay out of focus – one reason a lot of his fans like him so much -- so a ``special citation'' is actually the best he could hope for. When all the people his age were saying how great ``the kids'' were, and ``don't trust anybody over 30,'' he came out with ``Like A Rolling Stone'', about the dangers of leaving home.
He famously went from folk to rock to gospel. Speaking of which, it has long struck me as odd that his gospel songs are never mentioned in articles about
so-called ``Christian rock.'' ``Gotta Serve Somebody'' deserves a prize in the ``born-again'' category.
The one time I interviewed Dylan, during the 1980s, he was standing under a bare lightbulb in a dingy room stacked with beer boxes backstage, AND HE WAS SWEATY after a big concert. There was just me and a security guard in there. When I gave Dylan a copy of Paris Metro, a new English language weekly I was
writing for, the guard said: ``Yeah, I've seen that. It's good.'' And it occurred to me that, in a way, for Dylan, fame was a lonely life of dingy rooms lit by bare lightbulbs, and informed by security guards. On a deeper level, Dylan's poetry has entered the English language as much as, for example, Jack Kerouac, Robert Frost, and -- am I getting carried away?
-- William Shakespeare.
By the way, I heartily recommend the book: ``Bob Dylan Lyrics, 1962-2001''
(Simon and Schuster).
Today the Pulitzer, tomorrow the Nobel.