When Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature this morning, he joined a lineage that includes Harold Pinter, Thomas Mann and Toni Morrison. NPR's Neda Ulaby looks at how Dylan fits into this group.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: In 1965, Bob Dylan was asked at a press conference if he saw himself more as a singer or a poet.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
BOB DYLAN: I think of myself more as song and dance man, you know.
ULABY: Still, the Swedish Academy honored him and — its words — for creating new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition. The academy's secretary compared Dylan to Homer and Sappho for poems...
SARA DANIUS: ...That were meant to be listened to. They were meant to be performed, often together with instruments.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIKE A ROLLING STONE")
ULABY: Dylan's poetry is timeless, says Bill Wyman. He's a writer who a few years ago made a case for Dylan winning the Nobel Literature Prize in The New York Times.
BILL WYMAN: There's "Like A Rolling Stone."
DYLAN: (Singing) You're invisible now you've got no secrets to conceal.
WYMAN: We look at that 50 years later, and we think — doesn't that describe someone who's online? We're invisible, we don't see each other, and yet we have no secrets because we've lost all our privacy. And again and again, his words just — there's a whip crack across decades.
ULABY: Dylan brought high poetic traditions into the popular vernacular. He was influenced by the French symbolists, the beats, the song book of Woody Guthrie and the rural musicians he claimed to have met, as he told an interviewer on public radio station WNYC in 1961.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, can you read music?
(SOUNDBITE OF WNYC BROADCAST)
DYLAN: No, I can't, but this here song's a good example. I learned from a farmer in South Dakota. And he played the autoharp. His name's Wilbur — (singing) was old farmer that lived in the county nearby.
ULABY: Just consider, says Bill Wyman, the scope of Bob Dylan's lyrical canon for the past 50 years.
DYLAN: (Singing) The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
WYMAN: Everything from "Blowing In The Wind," which is a very simple folk parable to "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," which is a sprawling, almost Dantean look at everything from nuclear war to families and journeys and reinventing oneself.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL")
DYLAN: (Singing) I'm a-going back out before the rain starts a-falling. I'll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest.
ULABY: Bob Dylan told NPR in 2004 what it means to have so many people take so much from his music.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DYLAN: I don't pay any attention to it anymore, so I was trying to reconstruct the feeling of what it does feel like to have anything like that thrown at you, where you're expected to be something that you just flat-out know you're not.
ULABY: Even at the age of 75, Bob Dylan still performs constantly — close to a hundred concerts a year. If you want to see him December 10, it might help to be in Stockholm, where Bob Dylan will be awarded his Nobel Prize. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STANDING IN THE DOORWAY")
DYLAN: (Singing) There are things I could say, but I don't. I know the mercy of God must be near. I've been riding the midnight train. I've got ice water in my veins. I would crazy if I took...