New York, Nu York: Jews 'n Lit

We New Yorkers are talking a lot about the upcoming United States presidential elections, but that's not all we have been talking about as of late. The political talk can turn so grim, as does talk about terrorist attacks in Israel. And our baseball teams have already been eliminated from the Major League Baseball playoff series. (Ach, our Mets tried but lost in the one-game wildcard series.)
But since Thursday, the day after Yom Kippur, it seems like a large number of New Yorkers, of Jews, of all different types of people everywhere around the world, are talking about Bob Dylan winning this year's Nobel Prize in literature. The news media have been obsessed with this, rock 'n roll radio stations are playing his music with new-found vigor, and many people are kvelling or questioning this Nobel move. I enjoyed reading the Wall Street Journal and New York Times coverage of the event, and certainly because he is a Jewish fellow originally named Robert Zimmerman, many Jews have been debating the merits of Dylan's oeuvre and whether it truly deserves this award.
Bob Dylan is not the only Jew to have received this esteemed prize: Boris Pasternak, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nadine Gordimer, Joseph Brodsky and others have earned this rare award as well. But Dylan is known mostly as a musician, albeit a highly literate one, so this has been a surprise and a source of discussion.
I admit that I was surprised and pleased by the move. I enjoy a lot of Dylan's music, although he is not my absolute fave. I have seen him in concert three times, and the first time was the best-- he had equal billing with the Grateful Dead, in a New Jersey concert during the summer of 1987. To be honest, I like some of his songs better as performed by others; for instance "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds, "All Along the Watchtower" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, "It Ain't Me Babe" by the Turtles, "Percy's Song" by the Fairport Convention. But that certainly shows how his music has inspired and influenced so many other musicians. And writers as well.
The rabbi of my shul, the East Midwood Jewish Center, made reference to Bob Dylan and his award during his D'var Torah this past Saturday, linking Dylan's work in a continuum of the style of Parsha Ha'azinu. And this got me to thinking: who else who is Jewish deserves the Nobel Prize in literature?
King David. Posthumously.
King David's psalms are a remarkable, unmatched collection of poems, prayers, observations. They cover a wide range of topics, although centered upon faith in God and Jewish observance. And like Bob Dylan so many centuries later, King David was also a musician, a harp player for the ages. Perhaps if there had been guitars in his time, David Melech would have strummed one. (Would he also have been booed by some fans for switching from acoustic to electric, as was Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in late June 1965?)
While I doubt King David will get the phone call from Sweden, with the exalted news of a Nobel Prize, I think we should sometimes read his works with an eye toward appreciating the poetric and literary aspects. Read on, people!