After Dylan’s Nobel, how about Springsteen, Mitchell, Cohen?

(CNN)For those who annually pay attention to such things (other writers, mostly), the Nobel Prize in Literature always offers an occasion for often-impassioned chatter over who won and, even more ardently, who didn’t.

For every fan who delights over, say, Canadian Alice Munro being acknowledged by Stockholm three years ago for her long career achieving mastery of the short story, there are at least three or more spoilsports insisting that a Nobel Prize for American novelist Philip Roth and his formidable and influential body of work is long overdue.


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This year? Hoo-boy.
Probably the most lauded and certainly the most decorated living lyricist in America. Eight Tonys, eight Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize, an Oscar, a Presidential Medal of Freedom … Why not a Nobel?
Maybe, in Sondheim’s case, one finds everything — formidable ingenuity, breadth of content, prodigality — except the emotional urgency, fiery imagery and headlong energy powering, say, Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” or “Idiot Wind.”
And yet, Sondheim, alone among these other possibilities, is a product of a musical theater tradition. The others (and for that matter, Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and dozens more in their generation and subsequent ones) emerge from a sensibility that — let’s face it — wouldn’t have come into being without Bob Dylan. The Beatles were one kind of rock ‘n’ roll group before Dylan went electric in 1965 and another kind of group afterward; one whose music and lyrics took chances, made allusions and performed tricks that Bob Dylan’s freewheeling ways with words made possible


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Dylan didn’t need a Nobel Prize to legitimize such insurgency in popular music. Nevertheless, having it certified by the Swedish Academy carries the same sense of liberation and possibility that such groundbreaking albums as “Bringing it All Back Home,” “Blonde on Blonde,” “John Wesley Harding” or “Blood on the Tracks” still have on their listeners.
Whether Dylan is the first or last in his line of pop craftspeople to receive a Nobel, his win means a win for all the rest of them — and for those of us emboldened by their inventions in our own arts or crafts.

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