The iconic Jewish singer-songwriter – and now Nobel laureate in literature – Bob Dylan won praise over the weekend from two fellow Jewish icons of the American songwriting tradition.
On Thursday evening, just hours after the Nobel awards committee announced Dylan’s prize, singer and friend Leonard Cohen celebrated the famed musician, according to the Guardian.
“To me, [the Nobel win] is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain,” Cohen said at an event introducing his newest album, “You Want It Darker.”
At a question-and-answer session during the evening, Cohen, a Canadian but who has become one of America’s most celebrated singer-songwriters over his long career, noted the similarities in both artists’ relationship with their music.
“I think that Bob Dylan knows this more than all of us: you don’t write the songs anyhow,” the 82-year-old singer said, turning to the question of his and Dylan’s lifespans. “So if you’re lucky, you can keep the vehicle healthy and responsive over the years. If you’re lucky, your own intentions have very little to do with this. You can keep the body as well-oiled and receptive as possible, but whether you’re actually going to be able to go for the long haul is really not your own choice.”
On Friday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the last links to the early days of the Beat poetry movement, said he had never doubted the artistry of Bob Dylan or his worthiness of the Nobel prize.
“Bravo for Dylan, Nobel Laureate!” the poet, publisher and bookstore owner told The Associated Press in an email Friday, a day after Nobel judges stunned, delighted and also dismayed the world by making the singer-songwriter its latest winner of the literature prize.
Dylan was close to Allen Ginsberg and other Beats and in his early songs often wrote in a rich, stream of consciousness style that resembled the Beats’ work. Ginsberg would remember hearing Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and feeling an instant connection, especially to the line “I’ll know my songs well before I start singin’.” Just as critics and writers have long debated whether Dylan’s lyrics qualified as literature, the Beats in their time were challenged by the academic establishment for rejecting formal structure and not writing “real” poetry.
Ferlinghetti told the AP that he had “always considered Dylan a poet first, and he too considered himself a poet first.” He said that decades ago he had hoped Dylan would release his material in print form through the publishing arm of Ferlinghetti’s celebrated City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Alas, Ferlinghetti said, “he became famous” and lived on as a “song and dance man.”
Ferlinghetti, 97, has published works by Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac among others and was a defendant in a landmark obscenity trail over his release in 1957 of Ginsberg’s classic poem “Howl.”
City Lights, which Ferlinghetti co-founded in 1953, was a favorite meeting place for the Beats, and Dylan stopped by in 1965. He visited with Ginsberg and fellow Beat Michael McClure and brought along guitarist Robbie Robertson, then part of Dylan’s touring group. Robertson, later a star on his own as a member of the Band, recalled the gathering in his upcoming book “Testimony.”
“This get-together was a moment,” Robertson wrote. “I had come to appreciate the strong link between Bob and the Beat poets. Before Bob, nobody had written songs overflowing with the kind of imagery he conjured; he shared with these writers a fearlessness when it came to pushing limits.”