A Great American Communicator: Reflections on Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Win
History was made this week when Bob Dylan became the first musician to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy credited Mr. Dylan with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” An article by BBC said, “What makes a man who has only ever written three books a suitable winner of the Nobel Prize for literature? Bob Dylan arguably made the lyrics more important than the music.”
Subsequently, the internet blew up with opinions on whether or not this honor was truly deserved. President Obama congratulated Dylan on Twitter, along with many others, but some are less supportive. US novelist, Jodi Picoult, tweeted she was “happy” for Dylan, but added the hashtag “#ButDoesThisMeanICanWinAGrammy?”.
I felt some nostalgia when I discovered the news. Growing up, Dylan songs were always playing at our house. My dad owns every album, bootleg, LP, EP, you name it. In our household he was referred to as “Holy Bob”, and as much as I hate to admit it, I was not a big fan of his music as a kid. Maybe it was the child rebel in me, or maybe it was because I thought his voice sounded kind of funny. Truth is, I didn’t understand or realize the gravity of his lyrics at the time.
After learning more about his songs, I realize how impactful they were, and still are. I have to say my personal favorite is ‘Tangled Up in Blue’. Although I wasn’t a part of his following early on, I realize he was the voice of a generation, and a powerful one.
Many may think of Bob Dylan as just a musician, but he is arguably a more talented communicator. In public relations, we strive daily to create powerful and resonant messages through language. We want people to think deeply about what we are trying to convey and better yet, do something about it. A good communicator is not just a good writer, but communicates with an authentic, unaffected and at times, a fearless voice. Bob Dylan’s lyrics have not only commanded attention, they’ve demanded action. Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They Are a-Changin’ were considered anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements. Dylan has been directly credited for influencing opinions and inspiring mobilization.
Dylan has also shown that he does his research. He once said, “If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years.” The same rings true in any creative endeavor and especially in PR. Researching what campaigns have worked in the past and the steps that were taken to create them is all part of the process if you want to be successful. Every week at Fineman PR, we hold a “Creative Steals” session to dissect and analyze communication campaigns from around the world that inspire us, and we discuss what we would do to make them even better.
With all of the controversy around his winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature, I found myself questioning, “Why wouldn’t Bob Dylan deserve this award?” Bob Dylan moved people and his lyrics got through to people in ways that most writers will never be able to do, no matter how hard they try. I’ve seen first-hand the way his songs have moved my dad, and I feel lucky that I got to experience at least a little Dylan in my lifetime.