Skip to main content

ASSESSING THE WORK OF BOB DYLAN

Michael Thomas, mthomas@unm.edu

COURSE DESCRIPTION

“Beautiful despair is hearing Dylan
When you're drunk at 3 a.m.
Knowing that the chances are
No matter what you'll never write like him

Oh, brother

Do we laugh or cry?”

                          -Rodney Crowell

The Swedish Academy awarded The Nobel Prize in literature for 2016 to Bob Dylan. "…for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” This was a momentous award. Since the establishment of the prize in 1901, 113 individuals have received the award. Dylan is the first American to get the award since 2013 when the Academy honored Toni Morrison. Dylan is the first singer/musician/songwriter to get the award. All Nobel Prize awards are controversial and this one is more controversial than most since it is a departure from the usual practice of the academy of choosing an author of fiction or poetry. The award challenges us to look at Dylan’s body of work not only as literature but also as great literature. And that is what we will concern ourselves with in this seminar.

In this seminar we will consider Dylan’s body of work. Not only the 492 songs from 31 studio albums compiled in The Lyrics 1961-2012 but also his ventures into poetry (Tarantula, 1966), memoir (Chronicles Vol I, 2005) , radio (“Theme Time Radio Hour,” 2014) and film ( both films that he scripted “Reynaldo and Clara,” 1978 and “Masked and Anonymous”, 2003 ) and films about him (“Don’t Look Back,” 1967, ”Eat the Document”, 1972, and “I’m Not There”, 2007). The focus will be on the literary merit of Dylan’s work, but students will be encouraged to research that work using the tools that their disciplinary majors provide. Students with majors in history, for example, will be encouraged to consider Dylan’s role in the historical movements of his time(s). Sociology students will, perhaps, explore Dylan’s commentary on social institutions, Philosophy and Religious Study students may wish to look at the religious dimension to his work. It’s a cliché to note that there is a Dylan quote for every occasion, but it is certainly accurate to note that his work may be approached in seemingly endless ways.

The seminar will be research oriented, exploratory, and I hope, fun. I expect the seminar to be lively and engaging. Much class time will be devoted to listening to selections from Dylan’s work and discussing them. There will be a seminar wiki and nearly all of Bob Dylan’s recorded songs will be available to students online using the wiki. We will watch at least two Dylan themed films in class, tentatively “Masked and Anonymous” and “I’m Not There.”

 

READINGS AND TEXTS

  • Bob Dylan: The Lyrics 1961-2012 (or the ability to use the lyric section of Bob Dylan’s website to access lyrics on demand)
  • Chronicles Vol I – Bob Dylan
  • Dylan’s Visions of Sin – Christopher Ricks
  • Bob Dylan in America – Sean Wilentz

 

 

FILMS AND OTHER COURSE MATERIALS

  • Radio:  “Theme Time Radio Hour” 2014)
  •  Film:
    • Reynaldo and Clara,” 1978
    • Masked and Anonymous” 2003
    • Don’t Look Back,” 1967 ”
    • Eat the Document”, 1972,
    •  “I’m Not There”, 2007)

 

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS

  • A brief report on a particular song(s)
  • A brief reflection  on one of the films
  • A two page research project proposal
  • A brief oral research progress report with one page synopsis
  • A final research paper or performance based on research
  • A brief presentation  based on the paper or performance
  • Participation: attendance, participation in class activities, and professional demeanor.

 

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR

Michael Thomas retired from his position as a full time faculty member in the Honors College in 2015. Dr. Thomas directed Conexiones programs in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Ecuador starting in 1985. An anthropologist (Ph.D. Univ of Washington), Dr, Thomas also writes novels (four published) and has maintained a lively interest in literature and song traditions based in stories.