By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Pulitzer notes

A few observations on this year’s Pulitzer Prizes.

1. Mark Feeney’s victory in criticism is one of those developments that’s surprising but deserved. Feeney stands for low-key substance, and it’s nice to see that the Pulitzer judges recognized that. It’s also encouraging that the Globe has kept its Pulitzer string alive while it goes through another wave of downsizing. Editor Marty Baron is groping toward how to define excellence in a very different era. Greats arts coverage is one answer to that challenge.

The Globe’s Beth Daley, who was a finalist, also deserves credit for explaining the effects of global warming in human terms.

2. It’s too bad that Concord Monitor photographer Preston Gannaway won the Pulitzer for feature photography just as she’s leaving for the Rocky Mountain News. Nevertheless, the prize helps enhance the Monitor’s reputation as among the best papers of its size in the country.

Gannaway documented the death of a young mother with cancer, presented in a multimedia production here.

3. Congratulations to my Northeastern colleage Bill Kirtz and his wife, Carol. Their son, Jake Hooker, won the Pulitzer for investigative reporting along with his New York Times colleague Walter Bogdanich for their exposés of the Chinese pharmaceutical industry. Kirtz and I go way, way back — he was my instructor in the 1970s. I wish as much had rubbed off on me as it did on Jake.

4. It’s hard to think of anyone more deserving of a Pulitzer than Bob Dylan, one of the great artists of the past half-century. But I always worry when I hear an announcement like that. Is he sick? Do the Pulitzer judges know something we don’t? Nah. He’s just looking for Alicia Keys.

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  1. Anonymous

    It’s also encouraging that the Globe has kept its Pulitzer string alive while it goes through another wave of downsizing.Yes, but will the continuing cutbacks allow for the quality that could win another prize, or is this Pulitzer, the last hurrah, earned while the Globe still had the expectation and staff for quality journalism?

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 11:49: One depressing reality is that since everyone is downsizing, then the Globe should remain just as likely to win a Pulitzer as anyone else.

  3. Anonymous

    Re: “It’s hard to think of anyone more deserving of a Pulitzer than Bob Dylan.” Yes, but in music?I’d be more inclined to give Dylan a Pulitzer for poetry than for music. It’s as if they decided to do it in 1934 and they picked Ira Gershwin.It is amazing to think Dylan will only be the second American to win a Pulitzer Prize in Music without any classical music credentials.The first was Ornette Coleman. So I guess to win a Pulitzer in Music, you have to be a classical artist, someone with a toe in the classical camp (Wynton Marsalis), or a complete musical primitive. I don’t mean primitive in a pejorative sense — I have and enjoy some of Coleman’s early albums and when Dylan comes on the radio, I usually listen. But I watched a recent PBS special featuring him in his early folk days, and my two kids had the same reaction after listening to him sing for about 40 minutes: Doesn’t he know another song?The most famous choice for a Pulitzer in Music was the non-choice in 1965, when they decided it would be better to honor no one then lower their standards enough to recognize Duke Ellington’s body of work. So I guess Sonny Rollins is in good company.Bob in Peabody

  4. Larz

    Exactly what were you wishing had rubbed off onto you from Kirtz? (You don’t have to answer that.) Hey, Ace! Looks like you brought your kid up right. Congrats.— Larz

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: Dylan did not win the Pulitzer for music — it was a “special citation.” But you’re not going to give me one of those “he’s a poet but no musician,” are you? He’s the whole package, my man.

  6. Anonymous

    He may be a genius but he’s not a musical genius. Has rock even had someone you’d call a musical genius? Ray Charles was a musical genius, but he transcended genre. Lennon-McCartney was a musical genius — but individually, they weren’t.He’s a poet and I’ll go as far as songwriter but he’s absolutely no musician. He really can’t sing, he really can’t play guitar, and he REALLY can’t play harmonica. I’m not comparing him to Toots Thielemans or even Stevie Wonder. He plays harmonica a lot worse than anyone I’ve ever heard. Worse than anyone who has spent more than ten minutes with one. In that way he fits right in with Ornette Coleman and whatever he was trying to do on violin and trumpet.Yes, I know all this is beside the point, and some people won’t think it’s fair to view a talent as component parts. But can you really picture someone asking Dylan to PLAY on his recording date?And the “All songs written by Bob Dylan” credit on “Modern Times” is the biggest bit of songwriting plagiarism since “My Sweet Lord.” It’s Barnicle with a capo instead of laptop. What would have happened to anyone else who tried to pass off “Red Sails in the Sunset” with new lyrics as his own composition?Bob in Peabody

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: Dylan is a terrible harmonica player. As a guitarist, he’s not bad, and has gotten a lot better over the years. The quality of his voice aside, he is one of the great singers of the rock era; his timing is unconscious genius.There’s no doubt that his last three albums, all of which are pretty terrific, are derivative, each one more than the one that preceded it. On “Modern Times,” in particular, he didn’t seem to be hiding anything. I mean, I’ve got “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” in my Muddy Waters collection, too. It’s too bad he didn’t write some liner notes explaining where everything had come from.Dylan really comes from a folk tradition of borrowing, refining, improving, and adding, without a whole lot of worry given to who gets credited. But that doesn’t take away from his achievement.BTW, I contend that John made two solo albums (“Plastic Ono Band” and “Imagine”) and Paul made one (“Band on the Run”) that rank with the best of their Beatles songwriting. I think once they proved they could do it on their own, they started resting on their laurels.

  8. Anonymous

    Bob, genius is defined broadly enough to encompass several figures in rock, the two most obvious being Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix. The former for his unprecedented synthesis of the different styles that were nipping at the heels of what would become rock (swing, country, Chicago blues), the latter for his obliteration of instrumental limitations coupled with his uncannily prescient abilities as a composer. (listen to “Pali Gap” or “Villanova Junction”. Those two could have easily been recorded in 1985 or 1990 and have sounded brand new.)And while I agree that Dylan isn’t much of an instrumentalist, if coming up with lines like “Jan said to the monkey man I’m not fooled by Tweeter’s curl/I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey Girl” isn’t genius, I don’t know what is. 😉

  9. Anonymous

    Dan, I understand that the folk tradition includes a bunch of adaptation. I’m just surprised that Dylan, who seems to be quite a good musicologist in some ways, didn’t understand that a whole different standard (pardon the pun) applies to Tin Pan Alley. It’s easy to rip off someone by mistake. I once wrote a jazz arrangement in college of what I believed was an original composition, and found much to my embarassment that it was basically Tadd Dameron’s “Half Step Down Please,” something I did not have in my record collection but I obviously heard once or twice and it had stuck in my subconscious. Billy Joel tells a good anecdote about how the original melody for his “Moving Out” was Neil Sedaka’s “Laughing in the Rain,” until he brought it to the studio and his bandmates clued him in. The amazing thing with Dylan’s album, and Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” is no one pointed out the obvious to them.I must admit I don’t listen to much new Dylan, and if his guitar playing has improved, my apologies.To Anon: Chuck Berry was rock’s best lyricist, hands down, before Dylan. I enjoy his music a lot — he obviosuly owes a lot to Louis Jordan. I know a lot of people call Hendrix a genius; I don’t particularly enjoy a lot of what he did, so I’m hesitant to make a judgment. He did once say his favorite guitarist was Kenny Burrell, so we do at least have one thing in common!The post-Beatles McCartney and Lennon had the same problem that Dylan and Harrison faced on their plagiarism issues — once you become a “genius,” no one wants to say that you might be wrong. Bob in Peabody

  10. Anonymous

    Bob,In my opinion, rock is best off when it avoids the “genius” label. I’m a big Dylan fan, and Modern Times is my favorite album since Blood on the Tracks, even if he did rip off other songs for at least half the tracks. While Dylan ain’t quite Shakespeare, if the Bard were put up to the plagiarism standards of today, he’d be splashed across the front page of the Times as a fraud (after the Times had spent months building him up as the next big thing). Guess what I’m saying is that it isn’t what you steal, but what you do with it. Given who he is and where he stands in the cultural/artistic universe, Dylan is more deserving of a pass than most.And didn’t Monk win one of those special Pulitzers a couple years back?Adam in Plymouth

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