see below: zappa, gumbo variations, 1969 – an overdue eulogy, in progress… dedicated to susan gevirtz [ who detests zappa…]
jeffrey replied much more eloquently, fluently, and with a much greater knowledge of music than i could.
I liked your deconstruction of Dylan’s response as being speechless and the relation (or non-relation) between literary and literally. I was very happy to hear the Nobel awarded Dylan. As you say, it is a an acknowledgment that literature is opening up beyond 19th century notions of the novel and written text having hegemony over poetic form. A return to earlier forms of storytelling and song. It also acknowledges that the high/low cultural divide is no longer a particularly relevant or meaningful division. Dylan’s song is probably more significant in the lives (indeed transforming the lives) of more people than any artist of the 20th century. He has changed how we speak I think. So I like what Leonard Cohen said, “Giving Dylan the Nobel prize for literature is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the tallest mountain.” His achievement across contemporary culture is so influential and vast, that I’m not sure you can compare him to Zappa. Maybe you can say that Zappa did for modernist compositional music what Dylan did for modernist poetry. Added the vernacular of popular culture…and the politics of counter-culture to Modernism. They also made it clear that Modernist ideas and forms could be popular on a massive scale. But I do think Zappa has had less of an impact on culture, in the sense that no one picked up his mantle. He was unique but no one really followed. Hard to know what his influence has been really. His strain of music sort of died with him I think and no one took it further. I’m not sure sure about this, but it seems true. Perhaps you could say that the Po-mo town down music scene of John Zorn and that ilk which can move from free improvisation, to compositional music to rock and roll to jazz grew out of Zappa’s influence. But I’m not sure that is right.
But your focus is on the politics of the two artists. Zappa being more outspoken politically and Dylan’s politics are through a politics of refusal. But I’m not sure that Zappa was anymore outside the rock and roll establishment than Dylan. Both made a lot of money selling records and concerts. Anyway, its an interesting comparison to think about, especially the ways both turned aspects of Modernism into popular music. I guess they started what some of the new wave bands that emerged in the 70’s and 80’s like Talking Heads etc. But then there is also the figure of Lou Reed that looms here.
But I’m glad Dylan won the Nobel if it opens some of these discussions. But in the end it comes down to who you really like. If you love Dylan and his words and music, you’re glad he won hands down. If you’re just think he’s OK and you have reservations about his winning. With literary literature, people tend to believe the critics about what is worthy or not. With Dylan everybody has an opinion. As it should be with popular art…