Bob Dylan Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

Bob Dylan has today been awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The last time an American took the coveted honor was Toni Morrison in 1993. Dylan’s honor comes as somewhat of a surprise: typically, the Swedish Academy, who chooses the winner, goes with artists based in more traditional literary fields like novels, short stories, or poetry.

Sara Danius, the secretary of the Academy and 1 of 18 members, explained their reasoning being that Dylan is “a great poet in the English-speaking tradition.” She’s not wrong: Dylan has been on the American music scene since 1961, and has been traveling with his Never Ending Tour since 1988.

Music critic Bill Wyman wrote an essay arguing why Dylan should win the award in 2013. “Mr. Dylan’s work remains utterly lacking in conventionality, moral sleight of hand, pop pabulum or sops to his audience. His lyricism is exquisite; his concerns and subjects are demonstrably timeless; and few poets of any era have seen their work bear more influence,” he wrote. “If the academy doesn’t recognize Bob Dylan — a bard who embodied the most significant cultural upheaval of the second half of the last century — it will squander its best chance to honor a pop poet.

Check out the announcement below:

The Virgins’ Donald Cumming on the Band’s Comeback, His New Sound, and Being a Life-Long New Yorker

Donald Cumming has led and continues to lead quite a life. From the trials and tribulations of his youth to those that accompanied signing with a major label, the 31-year-old born-and-bred New Yorker has no shortage of stories illustrating his hustle, his hang-ups and his regrets.

Cumming’s cult band The Virgins—which loosely formed in 2006, was signed to Atlantic in 2007, experienced a meteoric rise in 2008, and continuously toured the world after that—has kept somewhat mum for a few years, but returns today with their sophomore album, Strike Gently, out now via Julian Casablancas’s indie imprint Cult Records.

In the interim since his debut, Cumming has overhauled his sound—essentially morphing from shiny pop to folk rock—and begun playing with three entirely new “dudes,” as he is wont to collectively identify his bandmates. Max Kamins (bass), Xan Aird (guitar), and John Eatherly (drums) round out the updated ensemble, which last month played an intimate set at Soho House and tomorrow plays SXSW. The remainder of March and early April the foursome will tour the US, and they can next be enjoyed in NYC at Bowery Ballroom on April 1.

Connecting with Cumming, who I’d feel more comfortable calling Donald, was particularly special for me, as The Virgins was the first band I ever interviewed. Last time, we crouched together at Highline Ballroom in the designated “VIP” section. Five years later we could be found at his studio space in the East Village—walls lined with blankets in an attempt to muffle their rehearsals—sitting on his beat up sofa beside an open window while he basically chain smoked. “It’s, like, my shame,” he told me, explaining that in part his shame stems from the fact that cigarettes are tested on animals and for the past few years he’s been vegetarian-turned-vegan.

He seemed to me to be in a better place, and said so. Married for two years to Canadian visual artist Aurel Schmidt, Donald, the only child who dropped out of high school, ran away, and did odd (and undisclosed) jobs to make ends meet, seems to have found his footing again. He was gracious and humble and open to talk. We caught up for an hour and a half, and what follows is the most meaningful, entertaining, and informative aspects of our conversation. Donald discussed a number of things, including his take on The Virgins’ audible departure, what he’d do if he didn’t have his music career, and how, despite a challenging childhood and professional woes, he feels ever so fortunate.

Tell me a bit about this switch. New members, new sound…
It’s been a minute. The dudes [and I] wanted to do different things. I love those dudes, those guys are like family to me, [but] we were ready to move on. We changed a lot. These guys, I’ve known them a while. We played together in a country cover band. When I was writing new songs, I started playing with these guys, and it felt really good. It just made sense that, since we were friends—we’d been hanging, playing music—they would be the dudes I worked with. It was a cool vibe; when we started writing new stuff, the songs grew naturally. It worked right away. I love these dudes and the way they play. We don’t have to tell each other much. Everybody does their thing.

What was the process of bringing the album together?
We’d been writing songs, started playing around the city. Because we had an opportunity to do a one-off, we had a single. We had, like, half this record written and started recording. We didn’t know who was going to put it out. We probably thought we’d end up putting it out ourselves. Through a mutual friend we found out Julian [Casablancas was] interested. We played him songs, talked about what [we] wanted to do, and he [told] us about the label. It felt really cool. The vibe was good right away.

Sounds pretty painless.
It was. This experience has been amazing. A lot of painful shit happened with the last album, with the label we were on.

What compelled you to maintain the name while transitioning the style?
The first thing I ever made was a demo in my room. I started giving [it] out and put “The Virgins”—I thought it would be cool to be in a band. Then, when I got a deal really quickly, I didn’t have a band, so I put the band together [and] made the EP. Things were progressing logically, except we had [signed with] a major label. When we went to make the record, a lot of stuff didn’t fit for me. It changed our direction, without us having control. We started having to deal with the business model and projected earnings and all the things that come with being on a big label.

It’s the name of my band. It was my name before the label, before the record and, after, it’s still the name of my band. When we started making this record, it was like going back to when things flowed naturally. We made what we felt like making. It didn’t feel like a change of direction. It felt like getting back on track. Personally, [“The Virgins”] doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s a name. I don’t have any attachment to it, emotionally or aesthetically. It just seemed like it would be more trouble changing it than leaving it alone.

Why the aesthetic shift?
For me, the music isn’t different. It’s just songs I believe in. I was deciding whether or not I even wanted to make music anymore, the conclusion I came to was, I’m not interested in doing anything I don’t believe in. It wasn’t a decision to change the style. I had to make what I wanted to make. I couldn’t have done anything else. If it throws somebody off, there’s not anything I can do. There might be fans that are like, “Oh, this sounds different.”And I understand. It definitely does. But, it just sounds like the way we play. We’re just doing it, and it sounds different. It’s not an ideology where we have to present a new thing. We didn’t say, “Let’s do it differently.”

Can you share a bit about your uncertainty surrounding continuing to make music?
Making the record with Atlantic was kind of crazy. I don’t want to go into it, but we all felt [that] wasn’t what we were trying to do. It affected all of us. Then we toured extensively. It was a strange experience. It wore away at me. I couldn’t identify with the music [anymore]. It got to the point where I was like, “I hate this. I hate this whole thing and I don’t know how to fix it.” So, I guess I had a bit of a spiritual crisis. [Laughs]

That was 2008?
’08 through ’10. Maybe ’11. It went on and on because we just kept touring.

Did you do anything else between then and now?
A ton of shit, but I needed to get my brain together. Besides getting married, finding out what means most to me, follow[ing] goals to their logical conclusions. There’s always somebody with an opinion, a reason you shouldn’t do what you want. Most times in my life, when I haven’t done what I wanted, I’ve ended up regretting it.

When I saw you perform last month, I kept thinking about Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. Have you gotten that before?
No. It’s great to hear. Everybody has their own take. So far it’s been stuff I like. It’s cool with me.

So, where do you like to play?
I love Mercury Lounge. I’ve enjoyed every show we’ve played there. It’s my favorite spot in the city. It sounds good. It feels connected. You’re sharing an experience with a room full of people. Obviously it’s cool when we play bigger venues, but the bigger the place the less personal things feel.

Do you become homesick pretty easily?
No. I really like traveling. It’s one of my favorite things about being in a band. Making records is amazing—it’s its own special thing—but the fact that you get to travel is quite cool.

And you grew up in Manhattan.
I grew up a few places, but I lived on Canal and Greenwich when I was a kid and, when my parents split, I [divided] my time between [there] and Astoria, with my mom. I’ve probably moved 10 or 11 times.

You have a favorite neighborhood?
I love Chinatown. I don’t live there anymore, but it’s peaceful and I like that. It’s gentrified, but doesn’t look like a mall. It’s heartbreaking to walk around the city and see how fucked it is. But, I love New York.

You’re a lifer.
Oh yeah, for sure.

Me too. So, of course this city influences your music.
Of course. All my memories are here and all my friends are here. Every place reminds me of somebody or something. It has an affect on me.

You didn’t finish high school, did you?
No.

And no college.
Yeah.

You’re self-taught. How many instruments do you play?
I attempt to play the guitar and the piano. That’s it. I’m not that guy who masters instruments. I get by. Shit’s not sounding so crisp anymore, you know what I mean? It doesn’t have that pop. I’m not the world’s tightest rhythm guitarist. Any little addition to my repertoire feels like a big achievement. [Laughs]

What’s been the biggest challenge?
Getting back to a place where I [can] express myself and feel like [I’m] making music for reasons valid to me. I didn’t know if that would happen again and was prepared for that not to happen. I feel grateful to have had the experience [of] making this record and excited to make more and play with these guys. I just feel really fortunate.

Do you do anything else apart from this?
I mean, I’m not really qualified to do anything else.

If you couldn’t make music, what would you do?
Honestly, without wanting to be overly romantic, washing dishes. That was [a] job I had that felt pretty all right. But you can’t support yourself doing that. Well, obviously people do. I don’t want to sound flippant. I’m lucky to make music for a living. But, when I washed dishes, I had some good friends and some good times. That’s a job I look back on without frustration or anger. A lot of things I’ve done for money in my life I really regret.

Regret?
[Deciding] to do something because I needed money, as opposed to believed in or wanted to, that stuff stayed with me. I’m not resolved. I needed money, so it was good to alleviate whatever problem I was having. But, I don’t have that money now. And those things are indelible. So, is it worth it? I don’t know. When I was younger, I avoided all work all the time. I was always broke. Beyond broke. No money whatsoever. I would paint myself into corners. If an opportunity came up to [make] money, I had no choice. I feel like it was cosmic punishment for not working. Like, you do shit for money you don’t want to do. I’ve got hang-ups about this obviously. [Laughs] I’m grateful to be a professional musician, to support myself with music. But washing dishes was a job I don’t have bad feelings about. I just got into tight situations. You do what you gotta do.

Did you receive monetary support from your family at all? Were you “privileged,” as they say?
No, not at all. My dad had a liquor store, my mom worked in an office. My dad was an alcoholic and basically went bankrupt. Closed the store. Moved in with his boyfriend. He was a committed alcoholic and died when he was 41, 42. I was maybe 11 or 12. My mom worked in Jersey, I went to school in Manhattan and we were living in Queens. She would take me, then get on a bus and go to work. It was tiring for her. When I was, like, 14, she met this guy from Florida and moved there. I went with, but didn’t get into it. My life was here. So, I ran away. I left home and moved back when I was almost 16. I had a little bit of money from social security—from my dad dying—and I started renting a bedroom from my friend’s mom. I got a job working at a coffee shop and was trying to go to high school. But I stopped going to school. I stopped working. That led to figuring it out. I wouldn’t trade it or change anything.

Wow. So, no regrets?
Only petty stuff that fucks with my ego and shit. I regret not going to school. I regret not going to college. I’ve always had to do shit on my own. It might have been cool to have a professor and be with other students, finish an assignment, and get feedback. I would have been down. But, I was way more focused on the opposite of that. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Switching gears, you’ve got a certain look. Can you comment on your personal style?
I only buy used clothes. I don’t believe in manufacturing clothes. It’s a drain of resources, putting all that shit into the world. I believe in secondhand. I’m vegan. I don’t wear animal products that are new. There’s definitely enough clothing on the planet, not only to clothe everyone, but [also] to stop fucking with animals, stop polluting the world, stop using plastic, stop exploiting people—all that shit. Like, I’m just not down. I could go on and on.

Didn’t see that coming! What prompted the veganism?
I bought The Animal Rights Handbook: Everyday Ways to Save Animal Lives by Linda Fraser at a secondhand store, because I liked the cover. I was already vegetarian and it was on my mind. I felt super guilty eating cheese and was like, “Fuck, I know I shouldn’t be doing this.” I didn’t know what was going to be “the thing,” but I knew it was coming. I started reading this book and that was it. I have never thought about going back. It’s not difficult at all. It makes perfect sense. It’s quite strange how willing people are to not give a fuck. 

Callin’ Oates, Bob Dialin’, and Phil Call-Ins: Easing Your Day With One Easy Phone Call

Last year, two cool dudes named Michael Selvidge and Reid Butler created what is possibly the best invention in the history of humans: a phone number you can call to hear songs by Hall & Oates. Using Twilio, the Callin’ Oates helpline went viral and soothed the ears of many who were having rough days, stressful nights, or just needed a quick sonic reminder that Hall & Oates could make any dire situation a little less upsetting. Today, on the one-year anniversary of Callin’ Oates, Twilio announces new songs on the Callin’ Oates helpline, as well as four new ways to ease your weary soul with the sounds of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Chicago, and Phil Collins.

From Twilio’s website

New: Bob Dialin’ (Bob Dylan Helpline) – +1 (615) DYLAN – 26
Did you forget how if feels to be on your own, with no direction home? Do you need shelter from the Bob Dylan-less storm? Don’t think twice, call Bob Dialin’ to hear your favorite Bob Dylan tunes.
Press #1 for “Like A Rolling Stone”
Press #2 for “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”
Press #3 for “Shelter From The Storm”
Press #4 for “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”

New: Diamond Rings (Neil Diamond Helpline) – +1 (424) 543 – NEIL
Hankering for some Neil? Play it now, play it now, play it now my baby… Here’s what Diamond Rings has to offer.
Press #1 for “Cracklin’ Rosie”
Press #2 for “Sweet Caroline”
Press #3 for “Crunchy Granola Suite”
Press #4 for “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”

New: Phil Call-ins (Phil Collins Helpline) – +1 (424) 888 – PHIL
Whether you need to hear that iconic drum fill on “In The Air Tonight” in a pinch, or just figure out what exactly Phil Collins is saying on “Sussudio,” you can count on Phil Call-ins.
Press #1 for “Easy Lover”
Press #2 for “Against All Odds”
Press #3 for “In The Air Tonight”
Press #4 for “Sussudio”

New: If You Ring Me Now (Chicago Helpline) – +1 (34724) 25 (or) 624
Saving If You Ring Me Now in your contacts is almost as good as having Peter Cetera’s cell number. Just give it a call to hear your favorite Chicago songs.
Press #1 for “25 or 6 to 4”
Press #2 for “Saturday In The Park”
Press #3 for “Old Days”
Press #4 for “Baby, What A Big Surprise”

Updated: Callin’ Oates (Hall and Oates Helpline) – (719)-26-OATES
Dial in to the hotline that started the whole viral sensation and let Hall & Oates take you away to a ‘70s to early ‘80s dreamland. With all new classics and even a B-side or two.
Press #1 for “When The Morning Comes”
Press #2 for “You Make My Dreams”
Press #3 for “Everytime You Go Away”
Press #4 for “Say It Isn’t So”
Press #5 for “Had I Known You Better Then”
Press #6 for “Adult Education”
Press #7 for “Out Of Touch”
Press #8 for “Go Solo”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be hitting redial on that Chicago helpline for the rest of the day.

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter

Midweek New Music: Rick Ross Returns, Tim Heidecker Spoofs Dylan and More

Rick Ross feat. Wale and Drake – "Diced Pineapples"

Following the release of the fantastic Rich Forever mixtape is the impending arrival of Ross’ album, the rather to-the-point God Forgives, I Don’t. Drake, who made an appearance on Rich Forever‘s standout track "Stay Schemin’," returns to give some extra lift to Wale’s very complicated chat-up lines and Rick Ross’ cinematic art-of-seduction verses on this steamy track inspired by Ross’ recovery fruit of choice. RUH. 

The Mountain Goats – "Cry For Judas"

Indie-rock’s favorite English lit professor and frequent tweeter John Darnielle is back with a new album, Transcendental Youth, out October 2nd. Lead single "Cry For Judas" is a bit more upbeat musically than some of the Mountain Goats’ other notable cuts, with a kickin’ backbeat and a whole lot of horns. The lyrics, though, packed with religious imagery (hence the title), will go down well with fans: "unfurl the black velvet altar cloth, draw a white chalk Baphomet / mistreat your altar boys long enough and this is what you get."

Tame Impala – "Elephant"

Chunky, bluesy psych-pop, perfect music to hallucinate to in the 90+-degree heat. Tame Impala’s new album, Lonerism, drops in October, but before that, fans will get a collection of "Elephant" remixes, including one from the legendary Todd Rundgren. 

Tim Heidecker – "Titanic" 

Turns out, Jimmy Fallon does not actually have a monopoly on acutely parodying iconic ’60s singer-songwriters. Tim Heidecker, musician, comedian and one-half of zany Adult Swim duo Tim & Eric, released a video for his 15-minute ode to the sinking of the Titanic, done in the style of Dylan’s "Hurricane." The impersonation is so convincing that somewhere on the Internet right now there must be someone making a slideshow of kids on Twitter believing there was an actual unreleased Dylan song. 

Ten Perfect Rainy-Day Songs

It’s a particularly crappy day in New York with what feels like a unending downpour already ruining our happy hour plans. With our socks and pants still soaked from running the four blocks from the subway to our office, it’s hard to forget the terrible weather outside as we sit in the toasty BlackBook offices. Never fear! We shall order our lunches to be delivered (and, yes, we will give generous tips), and we’ll spend the day listening to our favorite rainy-day songs. Come on, gang! Don’t let the miserable weather outside ruin your day! 

Garbage – "Only Happy When It Rains"

Gene Kelly – "Singin’ in the Rain"

The Carpenters – "Rainy Days and Mondays"

Elvis Presley – "Kentucky Rain"

Led Zeppelin – "Fool in the Rain"

Bob Dylan – "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall"

Creedence Clearwater Revival – "Who’ll Stop the Rain"

Adele – "Set Fire to the Rain"

Tom Waits – "Rain Dogs"

Eurythmics – "Here Comes the Rain Again"

Madonna – Rain"

Afternoon Links: Kanye and Kim Give It A Go, Adrian Grenier Needs A New Grocery Store

Hunger Games date night turned into breakfast and then into lunch, and now it looks like things between Kim and Kanye might just work out after all. [Us]

● A Brazilian production company, RT Features, has purchased the film rights to Bob Dylan’s 1975 album Blood on the Tracks in hopes of creating "a classic drama with characters and an environment that capture the feelings that the album inspires in all fans." [RS]

● According to Tara Reid’s math, "almost everyone" has had plastic surgery. [PageSix]

● Snooki is designing a line of slippers for infants and children, because she is three months pregnant and a woman who love’s her comfy footwear. [Refinery29]

● Adrian Grenier ditched a work-shift and has been kicked out of his beloved Park Slope Food Coop. If he wants to continue with the "no special treatment" thing, we might suggest the Key Foods down the block. [NYDN]

● Last night’s Young Jeezy show in Toronto was cut short when gun shots ran out, leaving one man in serious but stable condition. Jeezy left unscathed and with the promise that he "will be back!"  [TorontoSun]

Watch Miley Cyrus Cover Bob Dylan’s ‘You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go’

There is a very long Bob Dylan tribute album coming out tomorrow, with all proceeds going to Amnesty International. It’s a good cause, but at 76 songs long, there’s bound to be a handful of WTF-ery buried in between the Patti Smith and the Johnny Cash. Case in point: Miley Cyrus being tasked with "You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go," one of the more plaintive tracks off Dylan’s classic Blood on the Tracks. If your inner rockism hasn’t rage-jolted you into a coma, you can watch the newly released music video after the click.

It makes a certain kind of sense — Cyrus is trying to transition to a post-Disney life, and nothing screams "I’M SERIOUS!" more than an earnest Bob Dylan cover.  Her version isn’t bad, more country than Dylan’s take but certainly pleasant enough with the steel guitar and the Southern twang. If you don’t believe me, ask YouTube user Sarafulla99: "Miley Is Lovely, funny, beautiful, sweet, adorable, stunning, strong, talented. She Is An Inspiration She will Always Be Till I die <3 I Don’t Understand Why People Hate Her <3 Thumbs Up If Support Her And Your Are A Smiler ;)" Beautifully phrased.

76 Song Bob Dylan Tribute Now Streaming on Facebook

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International includes 75 new or previously unreleased Dylan covers from more than 80 artists including the likes of Adele, Patti Smith, Dave Matthews Band, Joan Baez, Sinéad O’Connor, Elvis Costello, Michael Franti, and even teeny popper Miley Cyrus who has recently upped her protest song game.  There’s something for everyone.

The collection isn’t set to be released until January 24, but you can stream all the songs now by pushing “Like” on Amnesty International’s Facebook page. Even if you’re not a big Dylan fan, satisfy some strange curiosity to hear what Ke$ha sounds like doing a rendition of "Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right."  The preview is available for today only. 

The Curious Case of Bob Dylan’s Paintings

Bob Dylan’s exhibit of paintings at New York’s Gagosian Gallery has sparked controversy, and not the kind you want as an artist. The collection, called The Asia Series, was purported by the gallery to contain “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape.” As the New York Times’ Arts Beat blog reports, many of Dylan’s original paintings have striking similarities (read: are reproductions) of famous photographs. This was first recognized on Expecting Rain, a Dylan fan message board, and there is a lively discussion there on the importance of the exhibit’s originality, as well as the originality itself.

As you can see here, his painting of two men is nearly identical to this Henri Cartier-Bresson photo taken in 1948. The Times also links to the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia blog, which features a 1950 photograph of three men playing a game, and it looks identical to a painting in Dylan’s Asia Series. Another Dylan work titled “Opium” is remarkably similar to a 1915 Leon Busy photo.

While the gallery announced that these were “firsthand depictions” from Bob Dylan, he doesn’t appear to have claimed this himself. He even acknowledged his source material in an interview with the gallery. “I paint mostly from real life,” he said, “It has to start with that. Real people, real street scenes, behind the curtain scenes, live models, paintings, photographs, staged setups, architecture, grids, graphic design. Whatever it takes to make it work.”

Still, even Dylan die-hards like Michael Gray, who runs the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia blog, are wary of the exhibit’s freewheeling use of existing photographs. “It may not be plagiarism,” Gray says, “but it’s surely copying rather a lot.”

It’s interesting to consider whether or not someone who wasn’t the voice of a generation would be given so much leeway if they produced a collection that was relied so heavily on previous works. One thing’s almost for certain: If they produced the same paintings as Dylan, they wouldn’t be given an exhibit at a gallery like the Gagosian in the first place.