It's tough to think of a major honor that hasn't been bestowed on Bob Dylan in his long career, but Thursday brought a new addition to his crowded awards shelf: the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not only is Dylan the first American to win the literary prize in a generation — the last being Toni Morrison in 1993 — he is the first modern songwriter to be so honored. (Bengali author and polymath Rabindranath Tagore, whose songs are cherished in India, won the same prize in 1913.)
Dylan's name has been bandied about as a long-shot Nobel candidate for some years now; his case was passionately argued in the New York Times in 2013 by Bill Wyman, a former NPR arts editor. In his Times op-ed, Wyman wrote: "His lyricism is exquisite; his concerns and subjects are demonstrably timeless; and few poets of any era have seen their work bear more influence ... It's time to take the idea seriously."
It's not at all clear what persuaded the Swedish Academy to make 2016 Dylan's year, but to paraphrase the songwriter, it's been a long time a-comin'. To celebrate, we've spent today looking back at some of the vast trove of Dylanalia in the NPR archives.
First, one from the man himself: In 2004, Dylan granted a rare interview to Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep. In that conversation, he spoke matter-of-factly about the praise he'd earned in his career so far: "Having these colossal accolades and titles, they get in the way."
Last year, national political correspondent Don Gonyea looked back to the astounding run of material Dylan produced in 1965 and 1966, during which which he cranked out three iconic albums within 14 months — Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde — and how Dylan worked and reworked the classic "Like a Rolling Stone" over and over again until he got it just right.
In 2013, All Things Considered's Audie Cornish spoke to Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz about Dylan's "Only a Pawn in Their Game," a song about the death of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. "It wasn't a song that played naturally into the moral dramaturgy of the civil rights movement, which was very much about the righteous civil rights workers — black and white — against an obdurate segregationist system," Wilentz said. "This dug a little deeper and made people think a little bit more."
On the other hand, there's the completely inscrutable Dylan — the bard of a Victoria's Secret commercial, a curious Christmas album, and most recently of two volumes of Great American Songbook standards. As critic and All Things Considered contributor Tom Moon wrote earlier this year: "So here we are, stuck inside of Croonerville with the Sinatra blues again. ... It is folly, everyone knows by now, to ponder the motivations and intentions of an artist like Bob Dylan."
And there is the way that Dylan's words have spread far beyond his music. In 2011, All Things Considered host Robert Siegel spoke to University of Tennessee law professor Alex Long, who found that Dylan was the most cited songwriter in American legal writing: "It's Dylan in a landslide," Long said. "The Beatles, Springsteen, The Rolling Stones come up behind him, but yeah, he's way out in front."
No matter the context, music lovers across many fields look to Dylan for inspiration. Read on for a full list of Dylan highlights from our years of coverage.
Bob Dylan on NPR
- Historian Sean Wilentz on Bob Dylan as a literary alchemist
- Writer Barney Hoskyns on Dylan's relationship with the town of Woodstock
- Critic Tom Moon reviews Fallen Angels
- All Songs TV shares a rare video for "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"
- Reporter Don Gonyea unpacks the frustrated studio process behind "Like a Rolling Stone"
- Tom Moon reviews The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12
- All Things Considered asks five millennials to listen to Highway 61 Revisited
- Historian Elijah Wald on the cultural baggage of Dylan's plugged-in performance at the Newport Folk Festival
- Tom Moon reviews Shadows in the Night
- Bob Love, editor in chief of AARP The Magazine, on getting to publish Dylan's sole interview for his new album
- Bob Boilen on Dylan's cover of Frank Sinatra's "Stay With Me"
- Morning Edition chats with Joni Mitchell, who offers an extended run on her relationship with Dylan
- Tom Moon reviews The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11
- How a handwritten draft of "Like a Rolling Stone" sold for $2 million
- Bob Boilen on Dylan's version of "Full Moon and Empty Arms"
- Producer Lou Adler and singer Merry Clayton on their gospel reading of Bob Dylan songs
- Writer Michaelangelo Matos asks, "Do we really need Bob Dylan and Van Morrison box sets?
- Critic Ann Powers reviews Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)
- Sean Wilentz on Dylan's performance of "Only a Pawn in Their Game" at Newport Folk
- Critic Ken Tucker reviews Tempest
- Ann Powers on the song "Duquesne Whistle"
- Ann Powers on the irony of writer Jonah Lehrer fabricating quotes by Bob Dylan, a living fabrication
- Dylan, Toni Morrison, Madeleine Albright and others awarded the Presidential medal of Freedom
- Ann Powers on Chimes of Freedom, a 75-track, 80-plus artist collection celebrating Bob Dylan and Amnesty International
- Joel Rose reports on a copycat debate around Bob Dylan's painting exhibit, The Asia Series
- Neal Conan offers a 70th-birthday tribute to Dylan on Talk of the Nation
- Suze Rotolo, cover model of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, on World Café (encore airing)
- Law professor Alex Long on Dylan songs quoted in Supreme Court opinions
- Bob Boilen on having a bad time at a Dylan concert
- Bob Boilen reviews The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964
- Ken Tucker reviews Christmas in the Heart
- Ken Tucker reviews Together Through Life
- Boston University lecturer Kevin Barents on teaching Dylan's lyrics
- Tom Moon reviews The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 – Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006
- Bob Boilen on the Dylan bootleg The Great White Wonder
- Suze Rotolo on A Freewheelin' Time, her memoir on Dylan and 1960s Greenwich Village
- Reporter Marcie Silliman on Dylan's 1965 Newport Folk performance and his live premiere of "Like a Rolling Stone"
- Correspondent Bryan Naylor on how "Blowin' in the Wind" still asks the hard questions