In 1964, an honest man with an acoustic guitar sang to crowds that “the times they are a-changin,’” and fifty-two years later, the lyrics that followed that line still ring as true as they did when written. The writer behind these seemingly prophetic words may not have known the impact his simple songs would have as time went on, yet they remain a timeless piece of wisdom that has become an American legend and will always be an American truth.
Dylan is the first musician to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, putting him in the same company of literary greats, including Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Eliot. The artist was awarded the Nobel Prize on October 13, 2016. While the decision to pass this coveted title on to such an outsider of the craft has many literary purists heated, an equally moving argument can be made for Dylan’s triumph of creating original expression through the most effective media of his time.
1961 set the stage for a young man from Minnesota to do something more with his vision of the world than just ponder it. Dylan had a keen eye for culture, noticing the intricacies that set the rhythm of change and the pace of progression. At the age of 20, Dylan joined the noise of the New York music scene and offered his humble addition to the conversation that would soundtrack the turbulent decade to follow. From the early days of emulating protest songs like those of Woody Guthrie in cafes throughout Greenwich Village to penning his own lyrics, Dylan became a dominant songwriter in his crowd of societal commentators.
The churning sea of social injustice threw Dylan into uncharted waters in a boat of his own making. The musician learned how to adapt to the music scene while learning how to navigate the changing cultural phenomenons that inspired so many of his songs, like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” In the center of the storm that was the 1960s, Dylan nurtured a gift of bringing to life the thoughts and feelings of those who could only express emotion through protest. In a world scarred with division, Dylan brought unity through lyrics that related to listeners on a universal level.
This sense of understanding is the simple truth behind Bob Dylan’s greatness. It’s the age old fact that no matter what decade we’re in, what side we’re on, we are all seeking the truth that shines a light on a world that has become filled with fleeting, transient ideals, and we found it with a simple guitar and a man humbly plucking its six strings. Perhaps that’s what honesty sounds like.
Even if you take the Nobel Peace Prize out of Bob Dylan’s list of accolades, or if you take the notable melodies away from the lyrics that have shaped our cultural climate, the song remains, along with that whisper of truth that weaves its way through the wind of change. And we’re all still singing it.
Come listen to the songs that have left a mark on our history as Bob Dylan takes his 2016 tour to Ruth Eckerd Hall on November 19.