Bob Dylan's contributions to America

In this May 29, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama presents rock legend Bob Dylan with a Medal of Freedom during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature, announced Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Bob Dylan recently played the guitar for the first time in close to four years, and it seems as though he has continued to change . What we expect, he will never do. What we want, he may or may not do. But what we need, he will surely always do.

As much as I need him, though, there's really no good way to write this, because there is so much history and words behind Dylan. As much as we know about Dylan, we surely don't know a lot.

The big news is that Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’ve heard others saying he didn’t deserve it, but him winning was no surprise to me. Let us focus on what he did for the great nation of America. Despite hardships, America is great, and Dylan has a lot to do with this. Think back to Vietnam—Dylan was there for America. Think back to when Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was convicted of murder—Dylan was there to expose judicial bias against African Americans. On September 11, 2001, “Love and Theft” was released. Though the album was not directly related to 9/11, the song, “Cry a Little” is a bluesy tune, and the fact that it came out on America’s worst day makes it seem right.

Suzanne Vega, a singer-songwriter, told the Guardian about her view on Dylan.

“He’s not being honoured as a musician but for the depth and breadth of his vision and the eloquence of the language with which he expresses it.”  Moreover, she says, “He has every literary device in his songs: character, narrative, style.”

Kathryn Williams, another singer-songwriter, said that her parents were fans of Dylan, and that his albums had a big impact on her while growing up. She said when she worked at a bar in Liverpool; “Lay Lady Lay” would always play on the jukebox when she was cleaning the bar. She mentions that Dylan had a “gorgeous, treacly, chocolaty voice”.

The question of whether Dylan deserves this award is still conflicting for some. I would say “hell yes,” he deserves it.

One important element is that today, many have the option to pick what music to listen to, via YouTube and Spotify. But, listening to one Dylan song is simply not enough. Dylan was all about writing, not a word, but a sentence; not an isolated song, but an album. That is why he was so good. Because there was a story. In pop songs these days, there is a story, yes, but a very fast and non-descriptive one.

Music is about learning the rules, then breaking them. Dylan knew that.

People also need to understand that Dylan is not just America's Poet, he is the World's Poet. A friend from Afghanistan once told me that Dylan changed him one night, after he took drugs in his war-torn town.

I knew a guy in a hospital who played the guitar, and he reminded me of Dylan. He was very sick and had been living on the streets. When he picked up the guitar, it was something I had never heard, something maybe no one had heard. He was quiet and he played for himself. At night, I would hear him playing music that he wrote. But, through trying to become Dylan, he made his identity. That is a beautiful thing that Dylan does for people. My ill friend always said that things are changing, adapting and we must go with it. Dylan taught him well.

I started smoking cigarettes because Dylan did. But as much as I try to be him, I never will. In failing to become the person you love, you will create yourself. Dylan gave me pieces to a puzzle, forming the man I was born to be. There was darkness to Dylan, sure. He did drugs. He lived in many places. He was a true gentleman to women, but he didn't always keep one. And it hurt him. “Blood on the Tracks” is his anthem to this struggle. I only wished my parents would have listened to this album at the height of their divorce. Famously, Dylan was in a life-changing motorcycle accident in the 1960s; but, he got up. He survived. He deserves the award because he took risks.

As dark as Dylan was, he was also funny as hell. Watch any interview he had, on any occasion. He has some elements that stay with him, but he also changes. That's the main reason I love him.

When I saw one of Dylan’s concerts, many younger people didn't love it as much as I did because they wanted to hear his old stuff. Just when people felt like he wouldn't play anything from the sixties and seventies, he did: one of my favorites, "Tangled up in Blue." But only a few actually recognized the song. Dylan’s words stayed the same that night, but everything about it was different from years back; the beat, the emotion, the catharsis. Dylan has always understood this change. Instead of staying still, he flows with the change.

The truth is, many musicians these days hide in a bubble with cowboy hats and boots. Just watch the County Music Awards this Thursday. Every year, the same musicians line up in the hall. Every year, we expect the same. Dylan knew that as long as the world changed, so would his songs. If things got boring, he would surprise the hell out of everyone.

These are some of the reasons he deserves both the award and the world’s attention. But, I will tell you, going on YouTube will never show the true Dylan. The true Dylan is hidden away in old record stores, behind cobwebs and books. You have to put in effort and patience to find Dylan. This award was great, yes, but Dylan was never about trying to win people over. If one song meant the world to one person, out of a hundred, he knew he did something right.

For all the Millennials out there, go to a local record shop sometime. Willimantic Records is the place to be. Sometimes there are Dylan CDs and sometimes there aren’t. That is the beauty of going to a shop and paying for a 33 or a CD. Unpredictable. But as much as anyone says they don't like unpredictable, I think they are lying to themselves. The world needs unpredictability and love, not rejection and hate. Trump needs to listen to Dylan sometime.


Congratulations Dylan and thank you for your music, your poetry, your sentences and words. Most importantly, thank you for your life. God Bless.


Miller Schweizer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at miller.schweizer@uconn.edu.