A few years ago, I tried to write an obituary for Bob Dylan. (He wasn’t sick, but in the news business you try to have obituaries written in advance so you’re not caught flat-footed by a sudden death.)
I pondered the huge influence he’d had on popular music and popular culture. I wanted to note his musical shape-shifting. I thought of highlighting individual albums and songs and lyrics.
I gave up after about 4,000 words.
I think I got as far as the mid-1980s, somewhere after “Infidels” but before the reinvigorating Traveling Wilburys. (Attention, CNN colleagues: I saved the first 1,500 or so, which you’re welcome to use when Mr. Zimmerman finally shuffles off this mortal coil.)
I mean, how do you summarize Bob Dylan?
Today, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I’ve seen people perplexed about his selection — isn’t he a songwriter? Are his works really poetry? — but it’s hard to dispute, even in a world where Philip Roth and Don DeLillo still go without Nobel recognition. The man is simply one of the great geniuses currently walking the planet, and some of his recent works are up there with his ’60s and ’70s classics. Who better?
(The Nobel committee’s secretary, Sara Danius, is a woman after my own heart. Asked where people unfamiliar with Dylan should start, the literature professor recommended 1966’s “Blonde on Blonde,” still my favorite album of all time.)
Besides these few words, I don’t have much to add to the tributes of Dylan that have been all over social media today. Some people are posting their favorite Dylan songs (much to my surprise, there’s no Dylan version of “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” on YouTube, dammit) while others are quoting his lyrics. Taken as a whole, they’d make a dandy obituary.
Fortunately, his light’s still shining.