Some poets pick some song lyrics worth reading.
Most of us don’t need a small group of learned Swedes to tell us that Bob Dylan is a poet. We likely forged our opinion on the matter long ago, somewhere between “Talkin’ New York” (1962) and “Thunder on the Mountain” (2006). But let’s not stop at Dylan. Why not call all Bobs poets? Bob Marley, Bob Seger, Bob Weir. Add in the Bobbys and Bobbies, too, for that matter: “Blue” Bland, Brown, Gentry. It’s an eclectic group. But if we relinquish the idea that the term “poet” is a kind of coronation, we’re free to understand it as a descriptive term for someone who works with words in concentrate, which all of these Bobs and Bobbies do.
Perhaps Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature can be a beginning—of closer attention to lyric craft; of richer conversations among songwriters, poets, and the rest of us. The poetry in pop songs can be masterful or careless, disposable or timeless. It can be in the service of well-crafted narratives (like Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe”) or more abstract tone pieces (like Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead’s “Jack Straw”). It can result in works that endure (like Bobby “Blue” Bland’s signature song “Turn On Your Love Light,” covered dozens of times including, famously, by Bob Weir’s Grateful Dead) or works that capture a moment and then recede into nostalgia (like Bobby Brown’s chart-topping 1989 hit “My Prerogative”). Read More