October 19, 2016
The boundary between pop lyricism and poetry or literature has long been a cause of debate, and never more so than in the recent decision to award Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize For Literature. The Quietus’ Luke Turner explores the frontier….
When Bob Dylan was awarded Nobel Prize For Literature, Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the judging academy, claimed that Dylan is “a great poet in the English-speaking tradition”, although Dylan is best known as a musician, Danius pointed out that poetry and song were once one and the same. Citing Ancient Greek poets Sappho and Homer she said that “they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, performed, often together with instruments, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan.” Similarly, the lyre-wielding poet and prophet Orpheus was known as “the father of song”.
There has been dissent about the Nobel Prize decision, however, with some critics branding Dylan an overrated lyricist undeserving of the prize. Academic Germaine Greer has blamed Dylan for the standard of creative writing that her students hand in, slamming him thus: “It’s not verse, not even doggerel. Nor is it prose, because it doesn’t make sense…. it’s just annoying.”
While there might be an element of snobbery that stops lyricists receiving the same acclaim as poets, it’s not always the case all lyrics are great poetry, or all poets can be great lyricists.
Leonard Cohen, shortly to release a new album, was a poet by profession before he crossed over to have phenomenal mainstream success as a songwriter. Interestingly, he and Dylan long had a friendly rivalry over their methods. Whereas Dylan was able to bang out a track like ‘I And I’ in a matter of minutes, it took Cohen as much as a decade to finally craft the lyrics to his song ‘Anthem’, and it’s affirming promise that despite the bleakness around us “there is a crack in everything / that’s where the light gets in”.
Cohen is a poet in a more literary sense, his lines weaving together personal love with existential crises of human nature and faith, and his collections of writing are on the education syllabus in his native Canada.
Artists like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, the Manic Street Preachers and The Clash however have taken a more direct approach, using words as commentary to describe the situations they see around them for political ends.
Patti Smith channelled The Beat poets to whirl together sex, gender, love and society; a heady summation of what she saw to the be the freeing possibilities offered by bohemian New York. Aside from the seminal LP Horses, she’s now known as much for the poetic meter of her memoir Just Kids, or her, poetry readings as her music.
Yet not all great lyrics have the same impact when regarded as poetry. John Cooper Clarke, the ‘Bard Of Salford’ might have the esteem of the literary establishment, but the sprawling, hallucinatory words of his post punk contemporary Mark E Smith have never been given the same regard outside musical circles. With Smith, the snappy delivery and distinctive voice is what makes his words work.
The same goes for Jarvis Cocker. Although the songs of Pulp provided a sex-as-class-war antidote to the boorish “cat/hat” rhymes of Oasis during Britpop, a collection of lyrics published by Faber seemed to lose some of their bite when written down on paper, shorn of that distinctive Sheffield voice.
Indeed, the right vocals can often infuse otherwise unremarkable words with a transcendent profundity. Take Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails Hurt, as featured on his American IV album. Here, Cash took a fairly average song about drug addiction and turned it into a quietly violent, moving farewell.
There’s often a view that music has lost its ability to hit hard as it once did, that radicalism is gone, that we’ve seen the best that there’ll ever be in some mythical golden age that wheezed to a halt at some point in the mid-70s.
This is, of course, nonsense. As Dylan said of Leonard Cohen recently, “His gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres”. These are not the only two poets of rock & roll who will continue to tap in to what Orpheus began.
Ever wondered what history’s biggest rock stars were up to over the festive period? Wonder no longer, it’s This Week In Rock…Read more
Legendary shows, groundbreaking album anniversaries, eye watering memorabilia auctions and more – it’s this week in rock.Read more
In a posthumous new album, Leonard Cohen has robbed death of the last word. ‘Thanks For The Dance’ is out now.Read more
We’re proud to announce a brand new chapter in Bob Dylan’s acclaimed ‘Bootleg Series’. ‘Travelin’ Thru, 1967 – 1969′ is the 15th volume in the series and features 47 previously unreleased recordings.Read more
All star shows, landmark releases, the rise and fall of legendary venues, it’s This Week In Rock…Read more
With a new album, ‘Thanks For The Dance’, recently announced, we remember the life and genius of Leonard Cohen, our Artist of the Month for October.Read more
Double whammys, numbers ones, history making shows and many happy returns – this week in rock down the years…Read more
The legendary 1975 leg of Bob Dylan’s mythic Rolling Thunder Revue has been collected into a comprehensive new 14 disc collection, featuring 100 previously unreleased recordings, available now.
An extraordinary accompanying film, ‘Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese’, is streaming on Netflix now.Read more
Bob Dylan is one of the world’s most influential and ground-breaking artists and in 2016 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’.Read more
The latest in the award winning Bob Dylan bootleg series is ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ celebrating the 1975 masterpiece. Here’s what the press are saying…Read more
We’re thrilled to announce an eagerly anticipated new chapter in the acclaimed Bob Dylan Bootleg Series, out now.Read more
With the release of ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ – a celebration of his 1975 masterpiece ‘Blood On The Tracks’ – the incomparable Bob Dylan is our Artist of the Month for November.Read more
As rock’s first Nobel Laureate tours Japan and Asia this summer, we’re pleased to announce a new collection of live recordings from the peerless Bob Dylan.Read more
As ‘Girl From The North Country’ – the critically-acclaimed new play in which the action is interwoven with Bob Dylan’s extraordinary songbook – continues to wow West End audiences, we’re pleased to announce ‘The Music Which Inspired Girl From The North Country’, out now.Read more
2017 has produced some of the most exciting reissues, limited edition and original vinyl albums of recent years, resulting in some ‘must-have’ records. Here are our Top Five picks, which should belong in the collection of any vinyl lover in your life, or of course, your own.Read more
The latest chapter in Columbia/Legacy’s highly acclaimed Bob Dylan Bootleg Series is out now.Read more
We’re proud to announce that the original cast recording of ‘Girl From The North Country’, the critically acclaimed new play from Conor McPherson featuring the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan, is out now.Read more
We’re giving you the chance to win one of our CD Book Sets – take your pick from Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 [rare and unreleased] 1961-1991, Elvis Presley’s Platinum A Life In Music or AC/DC’s Black Tracks.Read more
Legendary Nashville road band, Old Crow Medicine Show today release their live version of Bob Dylan’s seminal double album, ‘Blonde On Blonde’.Read more
In his first ever three-disc release, voice of a generation and nobel laureate Bob Dylan today releases ‘Triplicate’, 30 classic American tunes, reimagined with Dylan’s inimitable talents as vocalist, arranger and bandleader.Read more
As we celebrate the life and work of Joe Cocker who reinvented so many tunes with his unique voice, The Quietus’ Julian Marszalek looks at some truly definitive takes on classics and asks – is it the singer or the song?Read more
Collecting 30 brand new recordings from the nobel laureate, ‘Triplicate’ will be the first three-disc release from Bob Dylan.Read more
On Sunday Bob Dylan became the first musician to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. Read his humbling acceptance speech (delivered by the United States Ambassador to Sweden, Azita Raji) here…Read The Speech...
For the first time, the Real Royal Albert Hall concert, originally recorded for a live album in 1966, has finally been released…Read More...
As one of the most original, influential and culturally fascinating artists to have emerged in the 20th century, the man born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941 has also proved to be one of its most divisive…Read More...
The inimitable Dr John Cooper Clarke and The Stranglers’ esteemed Hugh Cornwell will be taking their critically acclaimed collaboration ‘This Time It’s Personal’ on the road this week.Read More...
It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away.More...
It’s one of the most ambitious box set projects in history – every single known recording of Bob Dylan’s legendary 1966 live shows across the US, UK, Europe and Australia collected in a huge 36 CD box set.Read More...
The boundary between pop lyricism and poetry or literature has long been a cause of debate, and never more so than in the recent decision to award Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize For Literature. The Quietus’ Luke Turner explores the frontier.Read More...
Bob Dylan has become the first musician in history to win the Nobel Prize For Literature.Read More...
Dr John Cooper Clarke & Hugh Cornwell release ‘This Time It’s Personal’.Read More...
One of the most ambitious box set projects in history comes to fruition on Friday, November 11th.Read More...
Dr John Cooper Clarke and The Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell run down ‘This Time It’s Personal’ – out now – one track at a time…Read more
Affectionately known as ‘The Bard of Salford’, performance poet John Cooper Clarke’s career has spanned some 40 years…Read more
Iconic artists photographed and mapped around New York City!Read more
Read more about ‘You Want It Darker’…Read more
We spoke to Liz Powner to discuss her wonderful Woolly Rockers collection and her favourite music…Read more
Two influential gents within their own fields of the arts have teamed up to release their first album.Read more
- Did I ever love youLeonard Cohen
- SuzanneLeonard Cohen
- Hey, that's no way to say goodbyeLeonard Cohen
- Ain't no cure for loveLeonard Cohen
- So long, MarianneLeonard Cohen
- and lots more!...
Take a different look at classic album covers and iconic pix from the likes of Hendrix, Dylan, The Clash etc.Read more
- Blowin' in the windBob Dylan
- The times they are a-changin'Bob Dylan
- Mr Tambourine manBob Dylan
- Like a rolling stoneBob Dylan
- Subterranean Homesick BluesBob Dylan
- and lots more!!...
9 songs to pull at those heartstrings…Read more
‘Forever Young’ on The X Factor: have you heard this song before?Read more
John Cooper Clarke is currently on tour in the UK supporting Squeeze, we’ve got some images…Read more
Listen to 3 tracks from the forthcoming Bootleg series now!Read more
Bob Dylan’s 5th album “Bringing It All Back Home” was released in 1965 and was half acoustic half electric. What’s the story behind this artwork?Read more
‘Bob Dylan – The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol 12’ is a deluxe 6CD anthology that will be released on November 6th.Read more
We are giving you the chance to own Bob Dylan 50th Anniversary Collection 1963Read more
Dr. John Cooper Clarke will be releasing the very first Anthology of his work on 16th October.Read more
We’ve selected 5 videos you have to watch!Read more
Some of our favourite tracks and albums are currently available for a very special price…Read more
Every month at Legacy HQ, we will be picking essential tracks from our Artist of the Month in this brand new playlist.Read more
Did you know our Artist of the Month turned his life around aged 32? Have you ever heard ‘Hallelujah’ in hebrew?Read more
As his new album ‘Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour’ is released this month, we will be looking back at Leonard’s finest throughout the month of May.Read more
Take a look at what we released this Record Store Day.Read more