Sorry for the title, I just had to. I listened to Bob Dylan’s “Highway 69 Revisited” while looking at the lyrics, and all of his songs sounded and read very profound. But the fact was, I didn’t understand the majority of it. I looked up the “meaning” of each song, and came across this site that annotated certain parts of Dylan’s songs. Here’s a (long) example:
“You used to be so amused at Napoleon in rags and the language that he used.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1821) was a French military commander who conquered much of Europe and made himself Emperor of France…As to why one should be amused by the language the French Emperor used, this is a reference to the fact that as a boy Napoleon was mocked because of his Corsican pronunciation, that being his first language. This is illustrated in the 1927 silent film written and directed by Abel Gance, Napoléon: in one scene his fellow schoolboys laugh at the way he says his name in his native Corsican way. It is said that Napoleon, who could not suffer ridicule or slights, declared at an early age that he would have his "revenge on the French people." Considering the great loss of lives during the Napoleonic Wars, and the loss of national prestige following them, this comment seems rather prescient, despite the fact that France considers Napoleon a hero.”
Without reading the annotations, there are so many references in Dylan’s songs that would be lost on me, partly due to the fact that I wasn’t alive during this time. I approached both albums with the question, “Is this literature?” And as far as Dylan’s goes, I would say yes. Though I doubt anyone can understand his lyrics 100%, there is no denying that all of his songs were written very carefully—they’re not just pretty rhymes. His songs have meaning, even if it isn’t obvious at first. During this course we learned that there is no such thing as reading, only rereading when it comes to literature—Dylan’s songs definitely require rereading to fully understand.
N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” on the other hand, I do not consider to be literature. (Though very catchy, no doubt) All the songs are straightforward and crude. I know we learned from The Wire that literature doesn’t have to have clever sentences and a high class vocabulary, but there was reason for The Wire’s using the word “fuck” in every other sentence—It appropriately conveyed the situation realistically. N.W.A’s songs are all about sex, drugs, violence, and their overall power and status. I don’t see how the curse words add anything, other than to add to their “G” status. There is no need for annotations. Even if someone didn’t understand what a term meant, it isn’t too hard to guess using context clues. Sometimes, they even give the definition to you. (“Just like burglary, the definition is 'jackin'And when illegally armed it's called 'packin'”) I don’t need to reread any of N.W.A’s songs to comprehend them. In fact, most of the songs seem to have common themes. All I got out of their songs was that they have sex with women a lot, do drugs, are capable of killing, and are not to be messed with, especially by racist police.