Congrats to Bob Dylan for winning a special honorary Pulitzer Prize yesterday, a citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” Dylan’s honor may be the first-ever Pulitzer for a rocker; the jury awards a prize in music each year to a classical composer, and it only occasionally offers special recognition to jazz composers. (Last year, a special citation went to John Coltrane, only 40 years after his death.)
Now, one can argue that such recognition for rock (or at least for Dylan) is long overdue, but think about it: which rocker (besides Dylan) has created a body of work, or even a single work, with the intellectual heft to merit a Pulitzer? Maybe Brian Wilson should have gotten one four years ago for finally finishing Smile, and maybe Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, and Patti Smith have created bodies of work with strong literary merit, but that’s about it. Otherwise, rock is a proudly anti-intellectual enterprise, or at least more interested in the visceral and emotional than the intellectual. It’s also, generally, a music of small gestures, not the sweeping ambition that marks the operatic and orchestral works that usually win Pulitzers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, but we’re talking about musics that generally demand to be appreciated on different terms, and Dylan is one of the few artists I can think of whose work demands to be taken seriously in both camps. Anyone else, PopWatchers?