With the news of Bob Dylan being awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in literature, we asked some of Canada’s top singer-songwriters to weigh in on the genius of the first songwriter to ever win the esteemed prize.

Bruce Cockburn, the 13-time Juno winner: “Dylan, especially the young Dylan, was the tip of the spear when it came to contemporary, folk-based songwriting. The elements of his style, both as a writer and in the way he at first presented himself, included lots of borrowed stuff, but he had the ability to distill those elements into a whole that captured everything we cared about in a single package. Nobody has ever written a better song than Hard Rain or Visions of Johanna or, for that matter, Tangled Up in Blue or Ring Them Bells. It’s interesting to me that the Nobel committee has seen fit to include songwriting in its definition of literature. No one exemplifies that connection better than Bob Dylan.”

Colin Linden, the producer-musician who played with The Band and was recently a member of Mr. Dylan’s touring ensemble: “The power, imagination, honesty, depth and beauty of what Bob Dylan says and how he says it cuts to the core and make you feel deeper. I crave that feeling and I need to hear Dylan to get it. Each of Bob’s songs is like its own universe. Each one comes from somewhere and takes you somewhere. And each fulfills so many desires. Literature doesn’t even begin to describe it, but it’s a good place to start.”

Tamara Lindeman, of The Weather Station: “Each of us approach Dylan in our own way, finding at different times of life another Dylan to happen upon, whether the gentle romantic, the rake, the mystic. Dylan makes words feel beautiful, or wry, or thunderous or ugly – he twists and rearranges the ordinary syllables of our monolith of a language in ways that still feel fresh, years later. When music feels colourless and stale you can stumble across a few bars of another Dylan and feel shaken through and through.”

Corin Raymond, the Hamilton-based troubadour: “As Warren Zevon put it, ‘Bob Dylan invented my job.’ When I get asked at a party what I do for a living, I say ‘I’m a singer-songwriter.’ It’s not an answer my grandmother would’ve understood, but it’s enough to claim my place in the social fabric. ‘Singer-songwriter’ comes directly down from Dylan, the first for whom such a term was required. Bard, folksinger, rocker: Dylan expanded every tradition from which he sprang. He brought a blazing literacy to music, and provoked new poetic possibilities for the word ‘song.’ And the force of his creative daring can never be undared. His songs are a ‘call to alms’ for any of us who labour at this vocation.”

Chris Luedecke, the Nova Scotia banjo-playing songster who records under the name Old Man Luedecke: “There is literature in Dylan’s folk songs we have loved so long and sometimes known without loving. There are musical rhymes that rise above the music, that stand alone in space and time, transcendent, that knock around in your head at odd moments, changing your daily life. This is the door that Dylan opened for so many people and so countless many artists. Them old dreams aren’t only in your head.”

Melissa McClelland, of Whitehorse: “These days, lyrics are often considered to be more superficial window dressing than legitimate poetry. Is the purpose of a lyric simply to be a phonetically pleasing ear worm? A shallow accompaniment to the music being heard? Thanks to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, I am reminded that lyrics are the beating heart of a song. His lyrics can be viewed and felt from a hundred different angles. They are funny, disturbing, sexy and deep all at once.”

The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 8:20PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 11:16PM EDT