Bob Dylan has rocked the world since the 1960s, but yesterday the Swedish Academy nearly one-upped him with their own world-rocking move. The academy broke with tradition by awarding Dylan the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first time the literary prize has gone to a song-writer/musician. The last time the prize for literature went to an American was in 1993, when Toni Morrison won it for the “visionary force and poetic import” of her novels. The times, they are a’changin.
And why not? Poetry is poetry, whether or not it’s printed on the page or set to music. In fact, the academy selected Dylan for the high honor for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” I say, good for them! If the purpose of the Nobels is to reward and celebrate achievement, pushing the boundaries of tradition is a necessity.
The Nobel Prizes were established in the late 1890’s by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish engineer famously remembered as the inventor of dynamite and holder of more than 350 other scientific patents. The legendary story holds that in 1888, a French newspaper published a misbegotten obituary of Alfred – who was still very much alive – identifying him as “the merchant of death.” In actuality, it was Alfred’s brother Ludwig who had died. Appalled at his looming legacy, Alfred decided to devote his considerable fortune to award those who “confer the greatest benefit on mankind.” Prizes were established in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. (You can check my facts on Wikipedia).
The literary award to Bob Dylan certainly fits with the spirit of Nobel’s intent. One of the earliest artists to use his platform to oppose the Vietnam War and to champion civil rights, Dylan’s impact seems obvious to someone of my generation. The sheer magnitude of what he has accomplished is stunning; not only has he sold more than 100 million albums, he’s won nearly every award for artistic merit there is. He was also cited by the Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 and won a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. This is a guy who has impacted the world in a way that others can only dream about. If an earlier generation, or a later generation, than mine does not recognize how Dylan’s collective works have influenced culture, art and politics in our lifetime, the Swedish Academy has taken care of that.
Because they were willing to think beyond the traditional boundaries of the category, the academy members stretched their imaginations – and hopefully, ours – to recognize someone deserving on the merits. The world, and the business of running it, are both enriched by this example.
I’m proud to say we take a similar approach to our own business here at Marcum. We value good ideas wherever they come from, up and down the Firm’s organization chart. That’s wholly consistent with Marcum’s nine core values, and I’d like to think it’s in part responsible for the Firm’s success over the years. We should all follow the Nobel committee’s lead and make sure we are running our businesses in a way that rewards innovation, risk-taking and high ideals. To quote the man of the hour, may you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong. (Bob Dylan, “Forever Young”).