Only a Pawn in Their Game?: The Nobel Prize, Bob Dylan and Trotskyism
• Bob Dylan might reasonably have won the Nobel prize in literature a good deal earlier. His chronicling of early-60s America is unsurpassed, influenced of course by his mentor, the Trotskyist folk singer Dave Van Ronk. It must be said, however, that songs like Only A Pawn in Their Game – a sharp analysis of racism – is as relevant in the era of Trump as it was 50-odd years ago.
Keith Flett Guardian 15th October
Whether you view Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature at age 75 as a further example of him selling out or appropriate recognition for one of the great poets of our age or any other I’ll leave to you.
Clearly the Prize was not for Dylan compositions such as Wiggle, Wiggle, Wiggle but perhaps more so for his earlier 1960s work.
Much of that work was inspired by Dave Van Ronk who was then and remained until his death in 2002 a (broadly) orthodox Trotskyist.
Dylan picked up a great deal from Van Ronk’s music- not least his re-working of House of the Rising Sun but his profound grasp of the politics of early 1960s America may well have owed something to Van Ronk as well. Several commentators have highlighted for example Dylan’s Only a Pawn in Their Game as a complex analysis of racism and the US white working class.
Van Ronk, again broadly, was the subject of the Coen Brothers film Inside Llewelyn Davies which featured both beards and cats. His Guardian Obit from 2002 is here:
This is hardly a new point and I wouldn’t have made here were it not for a rather odd alliance of the hard right (Telegraph) and the anti-left ‘left’ claiming that Dylan either did not deserve the prize or it was somehow a political gesture.
If it was a gesture it was one that was long overdue. Perhaps next Dave Van Ronk can be rehabilitated.