The other extraordinary news of 2016 was Bob Dylan winning the Nobel prize for literature.

There were audible gasps from the audience when it was announced.

Leonard Cohen said it was “like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain”.

Famously Dylan didn’t acknowledge his prize for several weeks, and didn’t attend the ceremony.

He sent Patti Smith instead, who sang “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” She was so nervous she forgot the words and had to stop halfway through.

It was a good choice of song. Dylan at his best, apocalyptic and wild.

In his autobiography Dylan described his writing as “always prolific but never exact.”

It’s obvious he wrote very fast. He was the opposite of Leonard Cohen, for whom writing was more like chiselling each word from hunks of granite.

Dylan’s greatest influence was Woody Guthrie, the man who wrote This Land Is Your Land. Guthrie was an authentic folk hero, a man who lived the life he sang.

Dylan, on the other hand, was a middle class boy from Minnesota, who was just playing at being a folk singer.

Nevertheless there was something extraordinary about him. It was like he was possessed in those early days, like he was channelling some old time prophet through his music.

His voice sounded like it had been dug up on an archaeological site: like some rough-hewn artefact from another era.

He hooked onto the radicalism of the folk-revival and became, temporarily, the man who voiced the spirit of those turbulent times.

It didn’t last. Later his words got more vague and his singing got more lazy. He stopped hitting the notes and started drawling around them. His tone took on a derisive snarl and his lyrics became dismissive and cruel.

Is he worthy of the Nobel prize? For his early work, possibly.

And some of his later work too, like Blood on the Tracks, has continued to echo down the years.

But, unlike Cohen, who remained vital to the end, Bob Dylan has long since succumbed to the lure of his wealth and these days seems only interested in making money.

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From The Whitstable Gazette, 26/01/2017

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