Bob Dylan

He is a songwriter, a singer, a painter, a poet — and now a Nobel Prize winner; just like the author of The Waste Land, TS Eliot, whom Dylan mentioned in Desolation Row. Last year, the voice of 1960s America won the esteemed prize for literature. Chosen “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”, he is the first songwriter ever to be recognised by the award. His career spans 50 years. He is best known for the songs which captured something of the spirit of the counterculture of the 1960s, including civil rights and Vietnam War protests — but his work also speaks to many more universal themes about human nature, religion and the search for truth.


Many of Dylan’s songs are about the search for answers — most famously, in 1962, he told people that they were “Blowin’ in the wind”. But Dylan’s own search for the truth is less simple. “What’s good is bad what’s bad is good,” he sang in 1975’s Idiot Wind. In 2000, his conclusion was even more damning: “All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.” Is there such a thing as truth?


Dylan’s has always been a wandering soul; he embraced the “on the road” lifestyle of the “Beat” poets of the 1950s and 60s, and he has been travelling the world on a “Never Ending Tour” since the 1980s. So it is no surprise that travelling appears throughout his lyrics. “You ask why I don’t live here,” he sings in On The Road Again. “Honey, how come you don’t move?”


While some of Dylan’s protest songs express subtle messages about human nature, others angrily condemn cruelty. He sang directly about civil rights struggles and anti war feeling, focusing on the victims and the underdogs from Hattie Carroll or John Brown to a Clean Cut Kid. The historical survey With God on Our Side concludes in the nuclear age: “If God’s on our side he’ll stop the next war.”


Born Jewish, Dylan converted to Christianity in 1978 – 9, adding evangelical elements to his questioning spirit: “People starvin’ and thirstin’… there’s a slow train coming.” Religious imagery appears throughout his work, and 2006’s Ain’t Talkin’ reflected on his spiritual journey: “I am a-tryin’ to love my neighbour and do good unto others / But oh, mother, things ain’t going well.”


He is the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature since 1993, and much of his work is rooted in the country of his birth. He draws from America’s folk traditions, immersed in blues and British folk music, literature and film. Finding inspiration in history, he comments on its present. At the same time, he has helped shape America, particularly during the 1960s revolutionary culture.