• Reading Level 5
English | Art & Design | Music | Citizenship | PSHE

McCartney is a Dickens for our day, says poet

Should Paul McCartney get a Nobel prize? News of a new 900-page autobiography has sparked comparisons with Charles DickensThe Victorian novelist is credited with inventing Christmas as we know it today through the warm descriptions of it in his books. – and a claim that the former Beatle is a major literary figure. In Stockholm, a bespectacled man stands behind a small table, reading out a pre-prepared speech in Swedish. Without warning, a distinctly English name escapes his lips: Paul McCartney. Around the world, publishers and booksellers roar in outrage. How can the Nobel Prize in Literature have been awarded to a pop star? To be clear: this has not happened – yet. Awarded annually, the Nobel is the world’s most prestigious literary award. The winner receives nine million Swedish krona – equal to £773,770.50. More importantly, they join a list featuring many of the most respected novelists, poets and playwrights of the modern age. Few would place McCartney in this company. Although famed for his songwriting, McCartney is regarded by some critics as too popular for this accolade. While fellow Beatle John Lennon was known for his politically-charged lyrics, McCartney has long been accused of writing “remarkably accomplished doodles.” One expert strongly disagrees. The prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon yesterday anointed McCartney “a major literary figure who… extends the long tradition of poetry in English”. Later this year, the two Pauls will publish a 900-page, two-volume collection called The Lyrics. Speaking yesterday, Muldoon praised McCartney as a “great mimic,” before comparing McCartney to Charles Dickens in his ability to sketch out characters, and to Lewis Carroll for his visual imagination. It is often believed that truly great art should be difficult. Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel in 2016, is known for his complex, allusive songs. McCartney’s pleasant little tunes might seem to pale in comparison. Yet time sometimes looks favourably on clear, simple words. In 1807, the Romantic poet Lord Byron declared the work of his contemporary William Wordsworth “puerile”. Today, Wordsworth’s poems are celebrated for their clarity, while Byron has become better known for his rakish life than his own writings. For others, however, to compare McCartney to a poet is beside the point. Although music and poetry have shared origins, they are not the same thing. To award a literature prize to a musician could simply be considered a category mistake. Some say it would also be a wasted opportunity. McCartney has won 18 Grammys, an Oscar, a knighthood and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is the richest musician in history, with a net worth of £91bn. The Nobel would just be one more trophy for a bulging cabinet. Far better, critics suggest, to award it to a lesser-known writer, for whom the honour would make a significant difference — and whose victory would enable their art to be enjoyed by new audiences. Should Paul McCartney get a Nobel prize? Let it be Yes, some say. Bob Dylan’s surprising victory in 2016 demonstrated that singer-songwriters are eligible to receive the Nobel, and McCartney is arguably the most successful songwriter of all time. We would be foolish to dismiss him on the basis of his simple, optimistic lyrics and melodies: some of the greatest art in history succeeds because of its clarity. Get back, say others. Literature and music are different disciplines: to give a songwriter a prize intended for writers is like giving a painter an architecture award. If the Nobel committee must reward another musician, it should be a less well-known figure, for whom the award will make a real difference. Besides, McCartney’s lightweight work is simply not worthy of the honour. KeywordsCharles Dickens - The Victorian novelist is credited with inventing Christmas as we know it today through the warm descriptions of it in his books.

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