The Year 2016, Explained by Bob Dylan's Christmas Lights

It's that time of year again when we use Bob Dylan's Christmas decorations to decode everything that happened over the past 12 months.

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Dec 15 2016, 5:00am

I wasn't planning to write about Bob Dylan and his Christmas lights again this holiday season, but the events of 2016 left me little choice. In a year that took both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen and left Donald Trump in their place, it was impossible to ignore the fact that the world was in desperate need of timely reflections from Dylan, this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. So I took it upon myself to have another look at his deceptively simple, seemingly scattershot annual Christmas display, which continues to be the single most reliable direct channel to the great man's extraordinarily verbal unconscious.

This year, the messages in the LED display are his most complex and detailed yet.

Let's begin with an overview: As we have seen in previous years, Dylan's approach to Christmas lights remains eerily similar to his approach to songwriting, in that any surface impression is only the beginning. A closer examination reveals that the 2016 display is meant to be divided into three important sections, each deserving of a separate analysis.

On the far left, we see Section One, in which Dylan reveals his thoughts about the texture of 2016 in its earliest stages, when the year was still in its infancy.

Predictably, it begins (lower left) by marking a low point, the deaths of three popular figures in rock 'n' roll: Paul Kanter, Glenn Frey, and David Bowie. But from there, the arc reaches upward, offering a cautious optimism, not unlike bubbles in champagne rising in a toast to a better future. In Section One, we see life collide with the forces of the national election. But then, suddenly, just past the midpoint, the light-line makes a dramatic dip downward.

But why?

This is no mere lack of ability to hang a string of lights, as it may first appear. Rather, Dylan has created, in the midst of his annual report, a very clear and prominent N.

The Nobel Committee need look no further than this centerpiece of Dylan's 2016 Christmas decorations for a surprisingly blunt X-ray of his decision to not attend its ceremony. Why did he show up and give a speech when inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? The committee might ask. Why was he in attendance at so many Grammys? The answers are all right here in red, white, and green, subdivided into 21 distinct points that begin in the lower left-hand corner of the "N" and continue to its uppermost right-hand corner. I have given each a number, from one to 21, to make them easier to follow.

In an average year, we would be grateful for the meticulous nature of the data recorded within this "N" and would gladly expect nothing more. But 2016 has shown itself to be anything but an average year. Thus did Dylan continue on, offering a third distinct section in which he addresses some of the events post-election.

Always a man in tune with his moment, 2016 may eventually be remembered as the year that Bob Dylan discovered emojis. There are also signs, in this section, indicating a familiarity with texting, as we see in the abbreviated "S"—as if to say, "srsly?"—after the passing of Leonard Cohen is marked.

We end on a final LED Christmas afterthought, which appears in an area farther down the driveway, one usually not subject to analysis out of respect for privacy. But this year it too reveals something of relevance.

It can be no coincidence that the extreme bell curve in this lighting arrangement mirrors so exactly the line graph found on a chart that explains the age range of previous recipients of the Nobel prize. Now that he is 75, Dylan apparently takes great pride in being a member of the demographic that is statistically least likely to win the award.

And with this modest cryptic boast, he offers us all a bit of hope for the holidays and the future.

Follow Merrill Markoe on Twitter.

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