It doesn’t actually seem likely that Dylan will win the Nobel Prize in Literature, but given how dense and narrative his lyrics are, I’m glad he’s getting actual buzz for it. Here are five Dylan songs that make the case that he’s as much a short-story writer as a musician:
1. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (1964): Many recent laureates have won for work that exposes injustice or examines the impact of oppression. The subject of Dylan’s stark description of racial violence may have protested its accuracy during his lifetime, but the song endures as a biting indictment of a system that values some deaths more than others.
2. “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” (1966): Dylan’s view of Mobile as a shot-up, burned out, gorgeous ghost town full of mythic figures would be an amazing first chapter for a Southern Gothic novel.
3. “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” (1975): Until Deadwood came along, one of the best Westerns about women. The little detail about Lily washing the dye out of her hair is particularly beautiful.
4. “Desolation Row” (1965): It’s not as if Dylan was the first person to re-appropriate fairy tale characters and juxtapose them in new and striking ways. But “Desolation Row” smashes together archetypes, immortal characters from literature, poets, and Albert Einstein and puts them up against the barricades of the riot police in a striking take on the first half of the twentieth century that’s a prescient prediction of the second:
5. “My Back Pages” (1964): Even his songs about disillusionment and artistic transition are great.