Source: Gaijin Pot
The bun fight over his nationality aside — Japanese, Japanese-British, Japanese-English, English-Japanese, British-Japanese or just British depending on which news outlet you frequent — Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel win is a well-deserved one. It’s also a great boost for those of us disappointed by the category error that led to Bob Dylan being awarded the prize last year in a field from which he has been largely absent.
Don’t misunderstand me: I love Dylan. His lyrics are sublime and witty and among the best penned by any singer-songwriter out there. But literature isn’t a synonym for anything that involves being creative with language. Moreover, lyrics detached from their musical context are denuded. My issue with Dylan’s win is that it reduces his musical output to mere accompaniment.
Lyrics are to the voice what riffs are to a guitar: the phrasing through which musicality is expressed. Describing Dylan’s lyrics as literature — a form of writing in which words are presented with nothing but the frame of an empty page or silence (for literature grew from oral performance) — or as poetry, is to elevate the words of a song to a place of importance far exceeding the music. To praise the lyrics in this way is to denigrate the importance of the music. And this is my issue. The voice — and consequently the lyrics — is just one instrument among equals. The lyrics cannot be detached from the song and treated in isolation, any more than you can meaningfully examine the use of the snare over a drummer’s career. But this is what the Nobel committee did by awarding him the prize — they implied that his music was of secondary importance.
Songwriting isn’t a subset of literature, inferior to it. Yet this is the conclusion many of those …continue reading