Alumnae/i Lecture Series Concludes with “Bob Dylan’s Last Record”
May 16, 2018
The College’s Alumnae/i Lecture Series wrapped up in April with “Bob Dylan’s Last Record,” presented by Dr. Nick Smart, professor of English in the School of Arts & Sciences and an expert on the artist whose music and lyrics provided the soundtrack to the American Civil Rights and Anti-war movements of the 1960s.
“The first time I spoke about Dylan in a scholarly way was 2007 at the Organization of American Historians’ one-day conference on Dylan,” said Smart. “At the time, there was an explosion of English teachers talking about Dylan, and I was sure it would be the one and only time I would.”
That was not the case. Smart, who continued to give talks on Dylan, now teaches “The Singer-Songwriter,” a class that examines the influence of Dylan’s music. He also co-edited Dylan at Play, a collection of essays about Dylan for use by students and fans alike, and has written several essays, including “The Last Bob Dylan Record” that appears in Tearing the World Apart: Bob Dylan and the Twenty-First Century.
During the lecture, Smart spoke about his first awareness of Dylan’s music. “I’ve always been interested in the use of “place names” in lyrics. As a kid, I loved the Johnny Cash song ‘Wanted Man’ (Wanted man in Albuquerque, Wanted man in Syracuse, Wanted man in Tallahassee, Wanted man in Baton Rouge…) I found out later that Bob Dylan had written that song.” Expanding on the subject, Smart cited other examples of Dylan’s place-specific works, including “Talkin’ New York,” “Mississippi,” and “Tombstone Blues.”
Smart also shared that “making the pure pleasure of listening to Dylan’s music into academic currency” posed a challenge for him. “I had to completely stop listening to him when I was working on Dylan at Play. It wasn’t until several months after that I was able to again have the sheer pleasure of just listening to his music.”
On another topic, Smart discussed Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, the controversy it spurred among literature folks, and Dylan’s Nobel Prize Lecture. “For some literature people, Dylan’s name being written on that ‘marble column in the house of books’ next to Kipling, Camu, Morrison and Monroe was a real problem in the history of culture. Then there were the Dylan people who thought this was a really big day that we should celebrate.”
At several points within the talk, Smart played different genres of Dylan music – familiar to many, new to some –and posed a closing question, “How is it that Dylan can always sound different and still sound like Dylan? And why do we so often find in his words our direction home?”
“CNR is essentially one big classroom,” said Dr. David Donnelly, Interim Sr. Vice President for Academic Affairs. “It was wonderful to see alumni, faculty, students, and community members gather together to hear Professor Smart share his scholarly work on Bob Dylan. These public lectures are a great forum for us to highlight CNR’s deep and diverse pool of faculty expertise. I look forward to many more.”