All hail Bob!

"I can't help it if I'm lucky."

— Bob Dylan


In the library that my small row house has become — a room for baseball, another for Judaica, a long shelf of Bolano beneath the skylight — the front parlor is designated for winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

There, where my parents raised glasses of wine after their wedding in 1953 — the year Winston Churchill won the prize — Kipling (1907) leans against Agnon (1966), and Faulkner (1949) bridges Morrison (1993) and Lessing (2007).


Earlier this month, a boll weevil chewed through the plaster looking for a home, little Bobby Dylan from Hibbing come a rocking with dreams, visions, six-string and six-shooter.

Now 75, Robert Allen Zimmerman didn't get the cookie for being the voice of the most self-absorbed generation in American history or giving Sinatra's ghost the willies or getting bombed with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood en-route to Live Aid in 1985.

Bob Dylan became the first person in the 115-year history of the award to win a Nobel for songwriting, and, said the Swedish Academy in the announcement: "For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

Let the scholars and professional poets throw themselves from the tower. Bob works without a net. In a year of news more dire and constant than any since 1968 (winner, Yasunari Kawabata of Japan), Mr. Dylan's endless run of good fortune came like a new morning of delight: fresh, charming and, like the man who received it, stunning though not wholly unexpected.

I mean, really, who wouldn't go electric if they only knew how?

Bob Dylan once said that the lyrics of blues fountainhead Robert Johnson "made my nerves quiver like piano wires" and because of that direct current of language we are all enriched, even those who find Mr. Dylan's Nobel a mistake.

"It's offensive," said Josh Kohn, a musicologist who programs events at the Creative Alliance on Eastern Avenue. "Music is music and to separate Dylan's words from the music is to seek false meaning in his work."

To which Mr. Dylan would respond...


Well, we don't know because Bob has not said a public word about the honor since winning it. He has, however, been on the road the whole time, a bad-ass troubadour who likes to say that he's just "a song and dance man."

Upon landing in New York from his native Minnesota in 1961, Mr. Dylan picked up where the epic poets of Hellas left off many millennia ago. Ever since he has traveled with his tales — millions of miles, thousands of performances — to share those stories in front of people who walk away enthralled, disappointed, confused and sometimes feeling as though they'd thrown good money after bad.

My enduring personal music hero, the late blues master Johnny Winter, can't even get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a great shanda. Born in 1944, Winter famously covered Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" as a hot rod of screaming slide guitar. Said Winter, "You can't be my age without loving Bob Dylan."

Tom Scheye, resident Shakespeare scholar at Loyola University of Maryland and my old English teacher, was born two years before Johnny Winter, and knows as much about literature as Winter knew about Mississippi. He looked back on his g-g-generation and put it this way: "When we heard what Dylan had to say in the songs he wrote we knew he mattered. The Nobel Prize reminds us that he's always been more than a songwriter, that he's a poet, and poetry matters."

So, onto a high shelf made from the plank of an old barn went "Chronicles, Volume One" and "Lyrics: 1962-2001" and "Tarantula." On walls painted ballerina pink, framed photos of Dylan fans wearing Dylan T-shirts and ticket stubs from the concerts where I met them.

The vinyl LPs — Blonde to Born Again to Budokan and beyond — stayed in the music room where they belong because there is no Nobel Prize for music. Mr. Dylan won for capital-L literature: coded marks on paper with no sound but the ones in your head.


With his latest honor, it is now assured beyond all doubt that when Bob Dylan goes to his heaven he will have died on top of the hill.

All Hail Bob!

Rafael Alvarez, author of "The Fountain of Highlandtown," came late to Bob Dylan, resisting until his early 30s. He can be reached via