Now hear this Robert Zimmerman I wrote some words for you

I stumbled to my feet

I rode past destruction in the ditches

With the stitches still mending ’neath a heart-shaped tattoo

Renegade priests and treacherous young witches

Were handing out the flowers that I’d given to you

The palace of mirrors

Where dog soldiers are reflected

The endless road and the wailing of chimes

The empty rooms where her memory is protected

Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times

(Changing of the Guard, by Bob Dylan)

 

HOW can I do justice in words to a writer and performer I have admired beyond all others for more than 40 years and to whom my words are like dust?

And so began my simple narrative about my love affair with the greatest and most profound poet and musician of my generation.

That was three years ago, and so far my narrative Journey Though Dark Heat  is 8,000 words long, and I have only got to 1988!

Yesterday, Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first ever songwriter to win the prestigious award.

The 75-year-old legend received the prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

The balladeer, artist and actor is the first American to win since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993.

President Obama said the honour was “well-deserved”.

“Congratulations to one of my favourite poets,” he wrote on Twitter.

Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said Dylan had been chosen because he was “a great poet in the English speaking tradition”.

“For 54 years now he’s been at it reinventing himself, constantly creating a new identity,” she told reporters in Stockholm.

I have adored every step of Dylan’s words and music since I was a starry-eyed teenager. He has been the backdrop and soundtrack to my entire life.

I have over 200 CD albums of his music, numerous first pressings of his LPs, almost 100 books about him and a gallery of photos, ticket stubs and ephemera. Oh, and I have seen him perform live some 32 times over the past 38 years and even followed him around Europe on his 1989 tour.

Yes, I am a Bob Dylan obsessive.

So his Nobel prize award delighted me as it did millions of others. I have tears of joy running down my face as I write this.

Quite simply Bob Dylan is a living legend.

This morning, singer and his former partner Joan Baez went further when she said: “The Nobel Prize for Literature is yet another step towards immortality for Bob Dylan.

“The rebellious, reclusive, unpredictable artist/composer is exactly where the Nobel Prize for Literature needs to be.

“His gift with words is unsurpassable. Out of my repertoire spanning 60 years, no songs have been more moving and worthy in their depth, darkness, fury, mystery, beauty and humour than Bob’s.

“None has been more of a pleasure to sing. None will come again.”

But it is the poetry in his music that has earned him the literature world’s highest honour.

Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion is among those to have previously praised Dylan’s lyrics, saying his songs “work as poems”.

“They have often extremely skilful rhyming aspects to them,” he told the BBC. “They’re often the best words in the best order.”

What makes a man who has only ever written three books a suitable winner of the Nobel Prize for literature?

Bob Dylan arguably made the lyrics more important than the music, but for many like me, the music and lyrics are inseparable.

Writer Salman Rushdie praised Dylan’s win, saying: “From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.”

Bruce Springsteen also congratulated Dylan by posting a passage from his autobiography on his website. In it, he described Dylan as “The father of my country”.

“Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived,” he wrote.

Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler wrote on Facebook he was “delighted” for Dylan.

He explained: “Bob Dylan has been a great songwriter since he was a teenager and nothing has stopped him in continuing to write and bring his gifts to the world.”

From his beginnings in the 1960s, Bob Dylan was the voice of his generation – the original singer-songwriter who both led and chronicled the social revolution that changed the world.

He has never had the greatest voice by traditional standards; indeed, that was part of his appeal. But he did create a new template for the singer as a poet and artist.

Allen Ginsberg called him the greatest poet of the second half of the 20th Century and former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion said he listens to Dylan almost every day.

Yesterday (Thursday) Per Wastberg, chair of the Nobel literature committee, said he is “probably the greatest living poet”.

Certainly no other rock musician has had their lyrics more analysed, anthologised and eulogised.

And he delved into his inner self to summon songs that set the blueprint for the confessional singer.

In a speech accepting the Musicares Person of the Year award last year, Dylan explained: “These songs of mine, they’re like mystery stories, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far.”

The young Dylan was heavily inspired by poets like Arthur Rimbaud and John Keats, and his poetic influence is even in his name.

When Robert Zimmerman began performing folk songs in coffee houses, he renamed himself after Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

He was also influenced by dustbowl singers like Woody Guthrie and country star Hank Williams. Yet Dylan moved beyond their traditions.

When the Cold war was at its height and America was racked by internal turmoil as the burgeoning civil rights movement clashed with the conservative middle class… it was Dylan who would provide the musical backdrop to these troubled times.

Using simple chords and universal metaphors, Dylan managed to tap into the zeitgeist of the era like no other, bridging the gap between folk and mainstream pop with songs such as A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall, Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They are A-Changin’.

Tunes including Like a Rolling Stone, Just Like a Woman and Lay Lady Lay became iconic anthems which were covered by hundreds of artists.

When he “went electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he horrified the assembled audience in one of the seminal moments in music history.

The sweet folk troubadour had transformed himself into a hedonistic rock star, with trademark dark glasses hiding eyes glazed by drink and drugs.

After a motorcycle accident and a subsequent seclusion following his 1966 world tour he made an unexpected comeback at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 and the albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and New Morning.

The return of the troubadour culminated in 1975’s Blood on the Tracks album and hailed as a return to form, and for many, one of the greatest LPs ever recorded.

Three years later, after Dylan witnessed a vision of Christ in an Arizona hotel room, his lyrics became full of Biblical references and reflected themes of faith and morality.

 

You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

His albums continued to be received with interest – if often mixed reviews – and in 1988 he began what came to be known as the Never-Ending Tour, constantly reinterpreting his own songs on stage.

Just as it seemed he was losing his relevance, his 1997 album Time Out of Mind, with its dark themes of mortality, proved another landmark release. It won three Grammys including best album.

In 2006, at 65, he became the oldest living artist to enter the Billboard chart at number one with Modern Times.

And his most recent albums Fallen Angels and Shadows in the Night has seen him slip seamlessly into an aged crooner of the great American Songbook.

His journey has come full circle.

Imbedded in legendary status, an avalanche of honours have now flowed – a Kennedy Center Honour, an Oscar, a Pulitzer Prize, a Golden Globe and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now he can add a Nobel Prize to that list.

 

Words for Friends #9

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#9 Clare

Clare is quite simply a rock and my best friend. She is someone I trust and turn to when life becomes tough or we have reason to celebrate.

She is the mother of my son Nathan’s best friend and  we have both marveled at how their friendship has remained close, even though they have been geographically separated by 200 miles for the past two years.

When I went through depression, suicidal thoughts and marital problems a year ago, Clare was always there for me.

An abiding memory is of last 31st December with Gill, Clare and I, our four youngest kids and three friends sharing a New Year’s Eve meal.

Then the mutual parental chuckle after reprimanding two of our teenage children for secretly sharing a bottle of champagne together!

Clare and I share much more than parenting: our love of large open spaces, gardening, green issues, social justice, adventure, beer, food and the wilds of Scotland!

We can – and often do – sit and chat for hours about how we can put right all the world’s ills. Before laughing at how serious we become.

Thank you Clare for being a very special person in my life and being such a wonderful friend.

 

Words for Friends #8

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#8 Sharon

I have known Sharon since 1991, but she has only known me for the last eight years!

I met her via a TV screen and an old VHS video player while I lived in a loch-side cottage on the wild, west coast of Scotland.

Life really was wild and devoid of modern culture in Knapdale, Mid Argyll, without TV reception and the nearest cinema some 45 miles away.

So to stay in touch with the late 20th century, my partner and I would rely on monthly trips to Glasgow – some 102 miles away – to buy a clutch of videos of which ever movies took our fancy.

One such video was called Clockwise  a hilarious 1985 British comedy starring John Cleese and co-starring a then unknown actress.

Sharon turned my head. She was funny, beautiful, slightly quirky and most of all reminded me of my first teenage girlfriend!

So it came as a surprise when some 17 years later I stumbled across her on Facebook and realised that we had mutual friends – largely due to my time at drama college in the late 1970s.

A friendship grew slowly via social media, emails and telephone chats and blossomed with our shared experiences, values and a constant battle against injustice and abuse. We also share very similar humour and a mutual disdain for bullies and deceit.

I now consider Sharon a close personal friend and someone whom I trust implicitly.

Thank you for returning that friendship.