Who are the other great American songwriters in the past few hundred years? Stephen Foster wrote eternally beautiful songs, with haunting music and gossamer lyrics, in the 19th century. Cole Porter was an unsurpassed master of wordplay in the first half of the 20th century. Lennon & McCartney wrote a ton of incredibly catchy and some songs very profound of lyric and music a little later.
All of these songwriters occasionally reached heights that Bob Dylan attained over and over, many dozens of times, in the 1960s. His protest songs, like "Masters of War," are just peerless. His commentaries on the human condition, like "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," devastating and unforgettable. His love songs, like "Just Like A Woman," are right up there with the best of Romantic poetry - and for that matter, Shakespeare and the Greek poets, too. And Dylan did this, countless times.
Someone asked me today if Dylan really deserved the award, since songs aren't books, and thus not really a form of literature. But what is literature? Words put together to tell a story - or exactly what Dylan did with his words in his songs. And he molded those words, sculpted them and strung them together, mined their metaphoric depths and extended them to surprising, stunning, breathtaking places, in a way that only James Joyce in fiction, Marshall McLuhan in nonfiction, and few other soaring writers have done.
Dylan's songs would've been heard 10, 000 years from now, even without this Nobel Prize. But the Prize is a worthy recognition of this work.