Why him? That I wonder too. The chance had been there for so long that it had become sort of what I call an elevator remark – if you feel stupid talking to your neighbor about the weather, you can always say ‘Hey, he’s been nominated again’. I guess it was even good that he should be widely known as the perennial, hopeless candidate. It granted him the status of a cultural – i.e. not just musical – icon, just as it granted the award a greater projection by suggesting that an artist so different from your average, overlearned, boring writer could be deserving of it. But of course there’s a long path from merely suggesting to actually doing, and if many of us regarded the nomination with some sympathy it was because we took it for granted that the path would never be travelled. Now it’s happened and there’s no turning back, either for the world at large or for literature in particular. I probably shouldn’t even be writing about the matter, since criticizing the decision is probably the best service one can do to a bunch of illiterate bureaucrats yearning for notoriety. Yes, we should ignore it, just like we should when their next-door colleagues use an equivalent prize to give due recognition to terrorists, dictators and useless politicians disguised as peace activists. And still we can’t.
My biggest problem with it all is not that he’s a musician, even if these artists surely have their own trophies and halls of fame. Songwriting is – or at least can be – poetry, therefore literature. If ‘real’ writers started attaching CDs to their books with self-composed music, it wouldn’t bother me to see them win any prestigious music awards; a different matter is whether ‘real’ musicians would accept such an intrusion. Neither is it my biggest problem with it all that I should expect the award to keep distinguishing obscure Eastern European writers year after year, even if it has proved to be one of the most effective tools to publicize authors and literary traditions outside the mainstream scene – but then there are so many millions of creators in the outside that it would take a couple of millennia just to approach a minimally equitable geographical, social and stylistic distribution of the prize.
Actually, my biggest problem with it all is that I’m not sure whether he really deserves it as a poet. I fail to recognize the allegedly superior artistic quality of those lyrics that are no doubt a good reflection of the life and beliefs of some people in some place and time, but that rarely stand out for their elegance and literary elaboration, rather displaying a colloquial, farmer-like style – not to mention that grammatical solecisms, they are a-proliferatin -, while the content is often little more profound than the form suggests. To me, the result is not that far away from the chewing-gum pop style of some Liverpool folks that became even more popular than him, but whom hardly anyone would consider worthy of such a high literary distinction. What the bureaucrats have done is to pick an obviously contestable option just to show the rest of the world that they’re not afraid of being contested. This way they’ve turned who was an acceptable nominee into a bad laureate. The fact that he didn’t answer the phone after several days of desperate calls is just a confirmation of what I suspected – frivolous literature awards deserve frivolous reactions, beginning with those of the recipients themselves.