Bob Dylan, regarded as the voice of a generation for his influential songs from the 1960s onwards, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in a surprise decision that made him the only singer-songwriter to win the award.
The 75-year-old Dylan — who won the prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” — now finds himself in the company of Winston Churchill, Thomas Mann and Rudyard Kipling as Nobel laureates.
Dylan’s songs, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Like a Rolling Stone” captured a spirit of rebellion, dissent and independence.
More than 50 years on, Dylan is still writing songs and is often on tour, performing his dense poetic lyrics.
“Blowin’ in the Wind,” written in 1962, was considered one of the most eloquent folk songs of all time. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, in which Dylan told Americans “your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,” was an anthem of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests.
Awarding the 8 million Swedish crown ($930,000) prize, the Swedish Academy said: “Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound.”
Swedish Academy member Per Wastberg said: “He is probably the greatest living poet.”
Asked if he thought Dylan’s Nobel lecture — traditionally given by the laureate in Stockholm later in the year — would be a concert, replied: “Let’s hope so.”
Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Nobel Academy, told a news conference there was “great unity” in the panel’s decision to give Dylan the prize.
Dylan’s spokesman, Elliott Mintz, declined immediate comment when reached by phone, citing the early hour in Los Angeles, where it was 3 a.m. at the time of the announcement.
Dylan was due to give a concert in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.
Literature was the last of this year’s Nobel prizes to be awarded.
The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.
• Bob Dylan began his career as an acoustic singer-songwriter specializing in protest songs such as “Blowin’ In The Wind.” His first album was the eponymous Bob Dylan released in 1962.
• Dylan created a controversy at the Newport, Rhode Island, folk festival in 1965 when he set aside his acoustic guitar and played an electric guitar. He played three songs and some in the crowd booed but it remains unclear if the booing was because of the electric guitar, the short set or bad audio quality.
• Dylan dropped out of the public eye after a July 1966 motorcycle accident. Few details about the crash were revealed but it allowed him to escape the mounting pressures of fame and he did not tour again for almost eight years. During that period, he recorded some remarkable music with The Band.
• Dylan has generally eschewed praise, including from critics and fans labeling him an artist, a poet or the voice of his generation. He has variously described himself as a trapeze artist, an “ashtray bender,” a “rabbit catcher” and a “dog smoother”.
• He once told Rolling Stone magazine: “I live in my dreams. I don’t really live in the actual world.”
* Dylan is of Jewish heritage — his real name is Robert Zimmerman. He became a Christian in 1979 after a divorce. He released three albums of religious-based music, then mostly left off making overt references to Christianity in his songs until he surprised fans with a 2009 Christmas album.
• Famous lyrics include:
“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
“‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm’.”
“The ladder of the law has no top and no bottom.”
“I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken/I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children … And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”