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Why Bob Dylan Matters by Richard F. Thomas

Why Bob Dylan Matters (2017)

by Richard F. Thomas

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814239,834 (4.05)1
"The coolest class on campus" - The New York Times When the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan in 2016, a debate raged. Some celebrated, while many others questioned the choice.  How could the world's most prestigious book prize be awarded to a famously cantankerous singer-songwriter who wouldn't even deign to attend the medal ceremony? In Why Bob Dylan Matters, Harvard Professor Richard F. Thomas answers this question with magisterial erudition. A world expert on Classical poetry, Thomas was initially ridiculed by his colleagues for teaching a course on Bob Dylan alongside his traditional seminars on Homer, Virgil, and Ovid. Dylan's Nobel Prize brought him vindication, and he immediately found himself thrust into the spotlight as a leading academic voice in all matters Dylanological. Today, through his wildly popular Dylan seminar--affectionately dubbed "Dylan 101"--Thomas is introducing a new generation of fans and scholars to the revered bard's work. This witty, personal volume is a distillation of Thomas's famous course, and makes a compelling case for moving Dylan out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and into the pantheon of Classical poets. Asking us to reflect on the question, "What makes a classic?", Thomas offers an eloquent argument for Dylan's modern relevance, while interpreting and decoding Dylan's lyrics for readers. The most original and compelling volume on Dylan in decades, Why Bob Dylan Matters will illuminate Dylan's work for the Dylan neophyte and the seasoned fanatic alike. You'll never think about Bob Dylan in the same way again.  … (more)



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Showing 4 of 4
Like Professor Thomas, I am a Dylan fanboy, but I don't go as far as he does, so I was skeptical about his claim that Dylan's songs are not only classics but reference some surprising authors like Homer, Virgil and Ovid. After reading this book, I have been persuaded. Dr. Thomas convincingly demonstrates how Dylan quotes or "steals" passages from classical authors (as well as more obscure ones like the poet Henry Timrod) to create his layered lyrics. Did I mention that Thomas even persuaded me to listen again to Dylan's covers of standards better known from the work of pop singers like Frank Sinatra? I read a library copy, but as soon as I can I am adding this book to my library. ( )
  nmele | May 11, 2018 |
The author obviously admires and respects Dylan as an artist. This book seems as much a defense of Dylan's 2016 Nobel prize for Literature as it is a tribute to his talent. A great deal of time is spent tying the poet to the ancient classics of Rome & Greece. I consider Bob Dylan to be a great poet/songwriter of my generation. It was very informative and enjoyable to read this tribute. ( )
  labdaddy4 | Jan 31, 2018 |

Of all the many books regarding the life and work of Bob Dylan this one ranks at the top when it comes to being scholarly. Part of a long-standing Harvard class taught by Thomas, this distillation dissects no few examples of Dylan’s now-classic role in producing great works by stealing from others. More importantly, however, Bob Dylan makes what he steals his own. No small task and something only a very few distinctive artists can pull of successfully. But the great ones in fact do exactly that. What interests me most is Dylan’s process of creation based on the studies, experience, and knowledge of the professor’s obsession with great Classic art. It is no stretch to state that Dylan is one of the best in the business and well-deserving of his 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. ( )
1 vote MSarki | Jan 7, 2018 |
Showing 4 of 4
So you will get a sweeping overview of Dylan’s songs and writings, their cultural significance—what personal experiences and concerns, intellectual influences and historical issues called them into being—the methods that produced them, their intertextual relationships with works of other songsters, poets, writers, thinkers—mostly ancient, but a good many modern —all concentrating upon songs that best exemplify Dylan’s grounding and continuing interests in classical, mainly Latin, authors. Thomas also invites us to see classical form and rhetorical techniques in songs that contain no classical allusions, e.g., “Blowin’ in the Wind” (pp. 25-27). And he guides us through the poetic artistry of Virgil and Dylan (pp. 193-225), covering instances where Dylan is lovingly stealing from translations of Virgil (e.g., “Lonesome Day Blues” and Aeneid Book 6, p. 194) and ways in which Dylan’s painstaking reworkings of texts, now traceable in the Dylan archives in Tulsa, are Virgilian (pp. 203-225). Thomas discusses many clear thefts from translations of Ovid and Homer in chapter 8 (pp. 227-265). These riches are provided by a master of classical intertextuality who has longstanding intellectual and spiritual sympathies for Dylan’s art and what Dylan’s songs have meant and continue to mean to humankind, to himself, to you and to me.
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