Bob Dylan And The Nobel Prize (Part II)

Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize Part 1.


by Larry Fyffe

In a particular song, Bob Dylan names the title of a fragmented poem by Jack Kerouac, using Jack’s alliterative, assonant, off-rhymed writing style that expresses an anti-material vision, akin to that of the Romantic Transcendentalists, but modernized,  turned upside down, and double-edged ~ with an earthy, not heavenly wind, infused with burning sexual desire, and a hope for a watery ‘spiritualistic’ love in the future for those that are labelled in the social order as outcasts:

I was born on the wrong side of the railroad track
Like Ginsberg, Corso,  and Kerouac
(Bob Dylan: Key West)

The Kerouac piece mentioned in the song lyrics below:

I feel it in the wind, in the wind, in the wind, 
    and it's upside down
I can feel it in the dust as I get off the bus 
    on the outskirts of town
I've had the Mexico City Blues since the hairpin curve
I don't wanna see you bleed, I know what you need
And it ain't what you deserve
(Bob Dylan: Something's Burning Baby)

Dylan as usual mixes up the musical medicine – the motifs above he finds in the writings of Nobel Prize winners, such as William Faulkner.

As in ‘Barn Burner’ by Faulkner, a story wherein a mistreated son goes to warn a wealthy white Southern landowner for whom his poor white father works that his racist dad, seeking vengeance, plans to burn down the rich man’s barn. Chased off by the owner, the son runs away; his father’s likely shot:

Something is burning, something's in flames
There's a man going 'round calling names
Ring when you're ready, baby, I'm waiting for you
I believe in the impossible, you know that I do

(Bob Dylan: Something’s Burning Baby)

There’s the modernist Romantic poet William Yeats who, with other artists, influences Kerouac:

Blackout; Heaven blazing in my head
Tragedy wrought to its uttermost
(William Yeats: Lapis Luzuli)

Quite likely, Yeats is given a tribute in the following song lyrics:

I cross the Green Mountain
I slept by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head
(Bob Dylan: 'Cross The Green Mountain)

In the novel ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus, an Algerian is needlessly shot by a alienated, colonial Frenchman – a symbolic struggle therein between the ancient ‘elements’ of fire and water in which the oppressively hot sun dominates the cool sea.

It’s an absurd Cosmos, disinterested in the elemental struggle, that’s depicted in the song lyrics below:

People are crazy, and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
This place ain't doing me any good
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

The singer/songwriter/musician in turn influences the writings of a satirical Nobel Prize winner:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter
Try Again. Fail again. Fail better
(Samuel Beckett: Westward Ho)


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