Singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature this morning "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition," according to the Swedish Academy who announced the news from London. For any of you scratching your head and wondering, "Why him?" let me share some Bob Dylan quotes on writing that will surely convince you this musician is so much more.
The 75-year-old songwriting legend began his music career in 1961, when he left his small town in Minnesota for the club and cafe scene of New York's famed Greenwich Village. It was there that he met John Hammond, the record producer that would give him a contract for his debut album, Bob Dylan. That first album, like so much of Dylan's work, not only documented the time that he lived in, but commented on it to, never shying away from the important issues like religion, politics, and social conditions.
Though he is a true music icon and a gifted writer, the announcement of Dylan's win today came as a surprise to many. The first American to win the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993, Dylan's work isn't in the traditional forms — novels, stories, and poetry — that the prize usually honors. Nevertheless, Dylan's writing has influenced entire generations of listeners and readers who connect with the emotion in each of his works.
In case you're wondering how this crooning Voice of a Generation became a Nobel Prize Laureate, here are Bob Dylan quotes on writing that will prove he knows a thing or two about the craft.
1. “Creativity is like a freight train going down the tracks. It’s something that has to be caressed and treated with a great deal of respect…you’ve got to program your brain not to think too much.”
2. “It is the first line that gives the inspiration and then it’s like riding a bull. Either you just stick with it, or you don’t."
3. “I really was never any more than what I was -a folk musician who gazed into the gray mist with tear-blinded eyes and made up songs that floated in a luminous haze.”
4. "The evolution of song is like a snake with its tail in its mouth. That's evolution. That's what it is. As soon as you're there, you find your tail."
5. “The environment to write the song is extremely important. It has to bring something out in me that wants to be brought out. It’s a contemplative, reflective thing.”
6. “..And songs, to me, were more important than just light entertainment. They were my preceptor and guide into some altered consciousness of reality, some different republic, some liberated republic.”
7. "It’s nice to be able to put yourself in an environment where you can completely accept all the unconscious stuff that comes to you from your inner workings of your mind. And block yourself off to where you can control it all, take it down…"
8. "First of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind. Some people are more loaded down with one than another. Nevertheless, they come through. And you have to be able to sort them out, if you want to be a songwriter, if you want to be a song singer. You must get rid of all that baggage. You ought to be able to sort out those thoughts, because they don’t mean anything, they’re just pulling you around, too."
9. "But as far as songwriting, any idiot could do it… Everybody writes a song just like everybody’s got that one great novel in them."
10. "It’s not to anybody’s best interest to think about how they will be perceived tomorrow. It hurts you in the long run."
11. "My songs aren’t dreams. They’re more of a responsive nature [...] To me, when you need them, they appear. Your life doesn’t have to be in turmoil to write a song like that but you need to be outside of it."
12. “If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years.”