Does pop music need a Nobel?
Gentlemen, he said, I don't need your organization. And surely Bob Dylan, one of the wealthiest and most successful artists in the history of the world, did not require the imprimatur of the Nobel Committee for Literature at the Swedish Academy. Nevertheless, here we were, on the morning of October 13, 2016, arguing about whether it made a lick of sense for a popular songwriter—even the popular songwriter—to be awarded this most prestigious of literary prizes. Was there precedent? There was not: Every single previous winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature—even Winston Churchill (1953)—won for writings that were primarily, um, writings.
Twitter was aquiver with approbation and disdain. Stephen King and Salman Rushdie were pro, Hari Kunzru and Gary Shteyngart were anti. I was briefly made livid by something the critic Jody Rosen tweeted: "Cute, but songwriting isn't literature." This is not true. "Sir Patrick Spens" is literature. And if the blues is "primarily a verse form and secondarily a way of making music," as Amiri Baraka wrote in Blues People, surely the same could be said of rap.
But I soon realized Rosen's claim was a hyperbolic version of a point I actually agree with, which he clarified in subsequent tweets. Rosen was opposing the notion that popular music needs to be validated by literary honorifics, while I was rejecting the notion that popular music can't be literary. These positions aren't mutually exclusive.
And decades after the much-hyped, much-distorted advent of barbarian postmodernism at the gates of the academy, Rosen's argument is probably the
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