Bob Dylan is not the first songwriter to win the Nobel prize for literature

The 1913 Nobel prize winner for literature was awarded to the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. His duty, like Dylans, recreates tradition and pass genres

Amid the raucous applaud, disbelieving emojis and graceless carping that accompanied the grant of the most recent Nobel prize for literature, an unexamined claim was drawn several times: that this was the first time the pillage had gone to a songwriter. A couple of newsreaders applied the word musician, others the historical and more precise singer-songwriter; but principally they remain to songwriter. It struck me that the amount claimed was incorrect. The first( and the only other) songwriter the award went to see was the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, in 1913. It was given to him because, according to the citation, of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful ballad, by which, with consummate knowledge, he has prepared his lyrical think, expressed in his own English statements, a part of the literature of the west. The award for Bob Dylan, which acknowledges him for having created new poetic phrases within the great American psalm institution, is different from but oddly suggestive of the one from 1913, when honouring an Indian someone located in the world of gurus and sances must have seemed as puzzling as passing a serious medal to a pop musician. Little was known outside Bengal about Tagore, just as little, truly, know anything about Dylan. The award from 1913 is already shall include participation in invention, attaining no mention of the fact that the poem is actually anthems, or that theyre renditions from Bengali. But Tagore carried the entitle of the book that got him the reward, Gitanjali , virtually literally, as Song Present and its a compendium of lyricals transformed by him into unusual English prose lyrics, selected from three slim Bengali collectings of songs ballads that are not only performed today day in Bengal, but played ad nauseam.

The main difference here is that, unlike Dylan, Tagore had a capacious, impressive and totally modern person of poetic studies. Pounds urgent message to Harriet Monroe about TS Eliot, that he had actually developed himself AND modernised himself ON HIS OWN, could have applied equally to Tagore, though Pound chose to compare Tagore to a jongleur, a Provencal minstrel. The other gap is that Tagore wasnt a jongleur, that is, a singer of his own songs, although he might well have wanted such a profession among his several. As a young man, he was much like Dylan certainly interested in performing his latest arrangements for whoever would listen, but grumbled harshly later about losing his talk abilities. His only extant, scratchy recording is from when he was much older, of Tobu mone rekho ( Still, remember this ), and gives to us the high-pitched, somewhat tentative and astonishingly immediate singer that Bengalis identify with Tagore, and which they never saw are worth a vocalist. To listen to it is to be deeply moved. Its too to understand the characteristics of Dylans achievement as a musician and registering artist.

I was never a great follower of Dylan while growing up( nor of Tagore ), interpreting him as a Picasso-like figure, these kinds of creator for whom tireless self-publicity and stylistic invention have merged into one thing. This is no longer to disclaim the impact that lyrics such as Dont Think Twice, Its All Right, Tangled Up in Blue, Love Minus Zero/ No Limit and Idiot Wind have had at different points in my life. But my interest in the sort of architect Dylan is developed manifold more recently while chancing upon Who Killed Davey Moore, his song first written and performed in 1963, but unreleased on any album until The Bootleg Series in 1991. This accounts for the late detection. Its a carol about the deaths among the eponymous featherweight champ, who died soon after forgetting a prize fight: but its not a objection song about the wellbeing of boxers. What is it then? In 1964, Dylan wasnt sure, though he had ingeniously suitable the childrens verses Who Killed Cock Robin? to make the psalm. As he told his the crowd at his show in October 1964: Its got nothing to do with boxing, its precisely a carol about a boxer genuinely … Its is nothing to do with nothing. But I fit all these words together … thats all … Its taken immediately from the newspapers … Nothings been changed … Except for the words. Dylan cant be certain about what the song represents because its not really a psalm about a boxer, its the following statement about a specific kind of ability, that are required to do with reusing, defamiliarising, reordering and rearranging existing substance so that its political and aesthetic registries undergo a alteration. In Who Killed Davey Moore, the material comprises the American folksong, the childrens verse, the public misfortune and the narrative taken immediately from the newspapers and subjected to the sort of estranging synthesis in which nothings been changed … except for the words.

Rabindranath
Rabindranath Tagore in 1935. Photograph: Fox Photos/ Getty Images

A few years ago, I realised that Tagore was a Dylan of his daytime at least in this his irreverent, opportunistic and surprising approach to whatever constituted his inheritance, his past, as a songwriter. This included Indian classical kinds, Scottish boozing chants, parading motifs, the devotional kirtan , and much else. Listening again to his political hymn Jodi Tor Dak Shune Keu Na Ase Tobe Ekla Cholo Re ( If no one heeds you when “youre calling”, go alone ), it seemed I was sounding an experiment very similar to Who Killed Davey Moore, because Tagore had chosen for the chants chant a baul theme whose original terms spoke of an preoccupation with Krishna ( baul represents mad, and is thus thousands and thousands of miles away from Tagores refined Brahmo upbringing ), and filched it unhesitatingly, almost thoughtlessly, into another context that should have been as ill-fitting as a childrens rhyme with a boxers death. This rearrangement was common practice for Tagore, as, years thereafter, it was for Dylan, and leads to a multiplicity of manners in their work. They are both lyricists, but if the redefinition of the lyric impulse goes back to the personal and generational confession that is Wordsworths Resolution and Independence( We Poet in our youth begin in gladness;/ But thereof come in the end despondency and madness ), then we need to look, among Dylans peers, to Leonard Cohens Chelsea Hotel# 2 and its shabby-plangent depiction of copulation with Janis Joplin, or, specially, to Joni Mitchells astonishing occupation. Both these songwriters did what Dylan didnt; that is, expanded the psalm lyrical to contain their own lives and those of their peers, becoming, in the process, just as much fellow-travellers with the folk music make as with the Robert Lowell of Life Studies .

Dylan and Tagore handled in lyricism; but, principally, they deal in what Claude Lvi-Strauss moderately disparagingly called bricolage, where the aim is to not so much better to create afresh( despite the Nobel cites proclamation) as always to make do with whatever is available. And so much better is prepared to both sets of founders the rhythms of folk song; political mottoes; religion entreaty; the novel; the modern lyric; four chords; various ragas! The bricoleur addresses himself to a collecting of oddments left open from human endeavours, supposed Lvi-Strauss, and his motto, in agreement with the commentator Grard Genette, is: That might ever come in handy. This summarizes up both Tagores and Dylans attitude as songwriters and clarifies their big output. Whereas the lyric poet waits and so tends towards stillnes, these two are always restlessly organizing, contributing and rearranging. Not lyric poets then, or even jongleurs, but bricoleurs, who occupy a separate category because they drive across genres. If there had been a Nobel prize for artistry, or for music, these two could have got it for their sungs on the same sand: of not creating, but indefatigably recreating, tradition.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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