Bob Dylan is America's latest Nobel Prize laureate in the literature category.
Dylan is the first American winner since Toni Morrison took the prize in 1993, and the second Minnesota native to claim the writing award, after Sinclair Lewis won the honor back in 1930.
The Duluth-born music legend and songwriting genius learned of the news Thursday morning, along with the rest of the world. If Dylan's got a reaction, he hasn't shared it publicly yet.
Let's assume he sort of raised his eyebrows a little bit and shrugged, then went back to reading and writing.
The Nobel biography for Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman in 1941, describes Dylan's childhood in a "middle-class Jewish family in the city of Hibbing." Dylan, it says, was heavily influenced by American folk music from performers like Woody Guthrie, as well as the radical writers of the Beat Generation.
"Dylan moved to New York in 1961 and began to perform in clubs and cafés in Greenwich Village," the biography continues, getting to the boring part when Bob stopped living in Minnesota and started making songs that changed the way a lot of the world wrote, thought, and lived.
The Nobel people really don't say much about what one did to deserve a prize: A press release announcing Dylan's recognition said simply that he'd won "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."
No kidding. Dylan started out playing the coffee shop scene in Minneapolis, trying his hand at other people's songs he'd heard. Then he moved to New York and kept at it, attempting to perfect the art of the cover song.
And then one night he saw Mike Seeger (half-brother to Pete), and Dylan's brain splintered a little bit. As he detailed in his 2004 memoir, "Chronicles: Volume One," Dylan realized Seeger was the real deal, an authentic folk singer, a guy who didn't "just play everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them."
The moment of clarity changed Dylan's life. He had to stop trying to be somebody else -- guys like Mike Seeger were already that guy -- and get better at being him.
The thought occurred to me that maybe I’d have to write my own folk songs, ones that Mike didn’t know. That was a startling thought. Up ‘til then, I’d gone some places and thought I knew my way around. And then it struck me that I’d never been there before. You open a door to a dark room and you think you know what’s there, where everything is arranged, but you really don’t know until you step inside. I can’t say I’d seen any performances that were like spiritual experiences until I went to Lomax’s loft. I pondered it. I wasn’t ready to act on any of it, but knew somehow, though, that if I wanted to stay playing music, that I would have to claim a larger part of myself. I would have to overlook a lot of things – a lot of things that might even need attention – but that was all right. They were things that I probably felt totally powerless over, anyway. I had the map, could even draw it freehand if I had to. Now I knew I’d have to throw it away.
Hey, now that you mention it, that is some pretty good writing, too.
Looks like this Dylan kid eventually got it figured out. Nice that someone finally noticed.