October 19, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
New York, NY – Bob Dylan, a longtime member of American Federation of Musicians Local 802, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature Oct. 13. He was the first musician ever to win it.
While Dylan has written two books—Tarantula, a book of poems, and Chronicles Volume One, a memoir—he won the award for his lyrics. The Swedish Academy said he had earned it “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
“He can be read and should be read, and is a great poet in the English tradition,” Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, told a reporter after the announcement. Homer and Sappho wrote poetry that was meant to be listened to, sometimes with instruments, she added.
Dylan has been a Local 802 member since 1961, the year he arrived in New York from Minnesota and began to make a name for himself playing Greenwich Village clubs like Gerde’s Folk City. He recorded his first album a year later, and defined much of the culture of the 1960s, revolutionizing popular-music lyrics with songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind”—which inspired Sam Cooke’s civil-rights anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come”—and “Like a Rolling Stone.” He has performed regularly over the five decades since then, most recently sharing a bill with the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney at the Desert Trip festival in California. His landmark albums include Blood on the Tracks from 1974 and Love and Theft from 2001.
He has been “an incredibly supportive member of the music community” in New York, a Local 802 spokesperson told LaborPress, making substantial contributions to the union’s Musicians’ Emergency Relief Fund and serving on the fund’s Board of Advisors. The fund, established in 1967, helps hundreds of musicians a year who are going through emergency situations, including legal aid, financial assistance, referrals and follow-up for alcohol and/or drug counseling, health services, and assistance with housing issues.
“Bob Dylan has made an indelible mark on global culture, exemplifying the role that musicians, writers, and artists can have in raising awareness and transforming the way we see the world,” Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi said in a statement. “The power of Mr. Dylan’s innovative musical style and poetic expression is matched only by his deep generosity and commitment to supporting working musicians and the music community. We are honored to call him a fellow member and a colleague—and could not be more proud to have a Nobel Laureate as one of our own!”