Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize today in literature. Think about that for a moment and let it sink in.
The final verse of Dylan’s 1965 song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” seen in the video above from an early performance, sums up his mood of the artist-rebel trying to stay alive in the mainstream culture:
And if my thought-dreams could been seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.
Dylan has proved, like many other artists before him — Van Gogh, Duchamp, Stravinsky, to name but a few — that if you live long enough and remain true to your vision, you might just take over the culture that you once felt alienated from.
But like the greatest artists, Dylan hasn’t just sat still for 50 years and waited for the mainstream to catch up to him. Instead, he continues to experiment, change, and evolve. As an example, compare this 1978 version of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” from the height of Dylan’s “Christian period,” which sounds like it could be coming from a rousing revival church:
Dylan’s continual reinvention continues to day, even at age 75. Here is a more recent performance of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”:
To further put Dylan’s achievement in winning the Nobel Prize into context — both the context of the 1960s and the context of what’s going on right now in the U.S. Presidential campaign — here’s a cheeky new meme flying around the Internet today:
I like to think that if Dylan’s current thought-dreams could be seen, “they” would probably still want to put his head in a guillotine. We need more artists like him.