43 Comments
Feb 13Liked by Robert F. Graboyes

After reading this, I'm left wondering why there is no Nobel Prize for music. I guess Alfred didn't care for it much, but think of the possible winners -- Mahler, Gershwin, Copeland, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, maybe even Bernstein (at the risk of stepping on a sore toe of Mr. A), and a whole host of non-Western composers of whom I confess being ignorant. He could have just combined Physics and Chemistry the way he did Physiology and Medicine, and Music could have a medal all its own -- with or without lyrics.

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Feb 13Liked by Robert F. Graboyes

Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends was only eight lines and just a short minute or so of music, but listening to it moves me as much as literature and poetry I am supposed to admire. I cannot speak to which or what awards should be or not - we give far too many to people who do little, and not nearly enough to people who quietly do so much.

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Feb 12·edited Feb 13Liked by Robert F. Graboyes

First, in the particular quotation the antecedent of “the songwriter” was Bob Dylan, not the songwriter as a Platonic form.

I readily grant that *categorically* song lyric is poetry and poetry is literature, therefore in principle eligible for literary prizes.

I admit being astonished that the first such award is for the highest literary prize. What are the odds?

But most song lyric is mere doggerel. The symbolism is sometimes striking, as might also be a clever turn of phrase, but seldom extended or thematic. The tricks of sound seldom sum to the sense. The sense is often banal and often pretentious into the bargain. Etc.

To my taste, perhaps not the worst in these respects, but plenty bad enough is Bob Dylan. Notwithstanding that negative criticism is allegedly fun to write and to read, I shall not here support my conclusory negative judgement with examples or arguments. If not res ipsa loquitur then by no means let my words disparage an artist you esteem.

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Wonderful post! My wife and I have had many debates about the lyrics of Jim Morrison. I maintain they are exquisite poetry, she that they are sophomoric and would not be remembered except for the Doors songs. Morrison, of course, wrote isolated poetry (https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/culture/article/best-jim-morrison-poetry) and for me his best lyrics are equal to Dylan's (Bob or Thomas).

"What have they done with the earth? / What have they done with our fair sister? / Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her / Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn / Tied her with fences and dragged her down / We want the world and we want it now”.

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Feb 12Liked by Robert F. Graboyes

Great post! I’m in the “lyrics as poetry” camp. “Battle Hymn of the Republic” never fails to move me. Twenty-two year old Paul Simon’s “Sound of Silence” lyrics still astound me.

A favorite of mine is Tom Russel’s “Guadalupe,” which should fit in well with the “growling singers” genre. https://youtu.be/YijteZZlCgI?si=ROa6nvNam-uvTqpO

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Feb 14Liked by Robert F. Graboyes

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9c09rIEk0jI for the Robert Moses song.

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Bob Dylan deserves a Nobel Prize for the song, "With God on Our Side," even if he wrote nothing else.

So much better when the singer is Joan Baez,, however.

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In support of your "fine poetry" argument, I will relay a short story of my misspent youth:

In 1976 I was taking senior English in high school. My teacher chose to disparage rock music and musicians during class time. I verbally challenged her assertion that there was "nothing of value" to "that music". I was informed that I should keep my comments to myself.

The following week, we were given an assignment to turn in a short poem, with the best examples (as perceived by her) to be read aloud during class. I turned in the following:

--------------------------------

Know that your place in life

Is where you want to be

Don’t let them tell you that

You owe it all to me

Keep on looking forward

No use in looking round

Carry your head above the crowd

And they won’t bring you down

------------------------------------

She chose to read this aloud, and was surprised when many in the class began giggling during the recital. Of course, she didn't recognize that these were the lyrics to "Fly By Night" by the hard rock band Rush, very popular at the moment. Point made, but at a cost.

Epilogue: The Vice Principal chose to merely reprimand me for plagiarism rather than suspend me for insubordination in class. (I think he was a closet Rush music fan).

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Feb 12Liked by Robert F. Graboyes

🙂👍

Now do the music to which poetic or vapid lyrics are put

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Feb 12Liked by Robert F. Graboyes

Yes. All hail to Bob Dylan. His lyrics are great, even when they leave me scratching my head. An experience akin to reading Pound’s Cantos, and who would deny Pound a spot in the canon? But remember that Dylan rejected literary honors for himself. He told us that William Robinson was “the only living American poet.” To save you the trip to Wikipedia, remember that Robinson’s nickname was ‘Smokey.’ Time to dust off those old LPs.

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