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US music legend Bob Dylan, whose poetic lyrics have influenced generations of fans, won the Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday, the first songwriter to win the award in a decision that stunned prize watchers. The 75-year-old was honoured “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”, the Swedish Academy said.

The choice was met by gasps and a long round of spontaneous applause from journalists attending the prize announcement. The folk rock singer had been mentioned in Nobel speculation over the years, but was never seen as a serious contender. The Academy’s permanent secretary Sara Danius said Dylan’s songs were “poetry for the ears” while acknowledging that some might find Dylan a “strange” choice.

“… if you think back to Homer and Sappho, you realise that was also aural poetry. It was meant to be performed, together with instruments,” she said. “But we still read them, 2,500-some years later… And in much the same way you can read Bob Dylan too. And you realise that he is great at rhyming, great at putting together refrains and great at poetic images,” she told AFP.

Captivated by the music of folksinger Woody Guthrie, Zimmerman  changed his name to Bob Dylan — reportedly after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas — and began performing in local nightclubs. After dropping out of college he moved to New York in 1960. His first album contained only two original songs, but the 1963 breakthrough “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” featured a slew of his own work including the classic “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

Armed with a harmonica and an acoustic guitar, Dylan confronted social injustice, war and racism, quickly becoming a prominent civil rights campaigner — and recording an astonishing 300 songs in his first three years. Dylan’s first British tour was captured in the classic documentary “Don’t Look Back” in 1965 — the same year he outraged his traditionalist folk fans by using an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival on Rhode Island. The following albums, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde”, won rave reviews, but Dylan’s career was interrupted in 1966 when he was badly injured in a motorcycle accident and his recording output slowed in the 1970s.

By the early 1980s his music reflected the performer’s born-again Christianity, although this was tempered in successive albums, with many fans seeing a resurgence of his explosive early-career talent in the 1990s. Since the turn of millennium, as well as his regular recording output and touring, Dylan has also found time to host a regular radio show, the Theme Time Radio Hour, and published a well-received book “Chronicles”, in 2004.

He was the focus of at least two more films, Martin Scorsese’s 2005 “No Direction Home” and “I’m not There” in 2007 starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett. Over the years Dylan has won 11 Grammy awards, as well as one Golden Globe and even an Oscar in 2001, for best original song “Things have Changed” in the movie “Wonder Boys”. (The Hindu)