Tuesday 17 October 2017

Leonard's your man: Surely Cohen is as worthy of a Nobel Prize as Dylan?

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Does Bob Dylan merit the Nobel Prize for Literature? Is he really up there with Yeats, Hemingway, Solzhenitsyn, TS Eliot, and Heaney? The Swedish academy gave the award to the American balladeer "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition".

Dylan took some time to acknowledge the award, which irked the Swedish Nobel committee, who thought it a mite rude to ignore the honour for a couple of weeks. They might have nursed fears that like Jean-Paul Sartre, he might reject it altogether (Sartre believed that writers shouldn't accept awards - their work shouldn't depend on others' approval).

But are Dylan's lyrics great literature? He is certainly a hugely significant figure in the cultural landscape, pulling together such diverse traditions as blues, country and western, English mystical verse - William Blake is an influence - and Biblical texts. His best-known songs have been voted among the greatest written, particularly Blowin' in the Wind, and The Times they are a-Changing faultlessly captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s (and perhaps today, too). But if Dylan, at 75, deserves universal recognition for what he has given to universal culture, there is surely another equally worthy contender: another Jewish voice which brings together the mournful, the rueful and the beautiful, whose haunting music and lyrics, once heard, never leave you - Leonard Cohen.

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