By Tony Attwood
There is a narrative that runs along the lines that Bob Dylan doesn’t like to speak about his work or explore the meaning of his songs. I don’t think that is true. Bob has given a number of interviews in which he has explored and considered the meanings of what he does. Furthermore during his period of writing openly Christian songs he would often address his audience at some length about the need for them to repent their sins, and the deep meaning of his message.
But if you doubt my words, consider this. In 2015 Bob gave us the biggest insights ever with his speech to the Musicares Gala – a speech which is set out and analysed in some detail (with a couple of rather nice pictures too) on this site.
What I think Bob doesn’t do is talk to idiot journalists with dumb questions. When the journalist is intelligent and knowledgeable about Bob’s work he will engage in a conversation. But really, most of what he has to say was said in the Musicares Gala speech. If you haven’t read the article above I would recommend it. Not because it is by me, but because my source material is Bob Dylan himself. Or if you really want to explore the whole notion of the writing of songs, you might try the whole series. Not because I am right, but because I think in these articles I get closer to the issue than I have anywhere else.
- How Bob Dylan writes songs: Part 1 – The types of song
- How Bob Dylan writes songs: Part 2 – The origins of Dylan’s approach and style
- How Bob Dylan writes songs: Part 3 – I didn’t think I was doing anything different.
Which brings me to the Nobel Award, and I think it might be helpful here to set out a couple of the base points.
First, obviously, Bob Dylan didn’t apply for the award. It was given to him.
Second, he’s not generally been overwhelmed with awards. The honorary degree commemorated in the Day of the Locusts was clearly not something he enjoyed and he nearly didn’t turn up there.
But he does turn up sometimes. On June 23, 2004 Dylan accepted another honorary Doctorate, this for “outstanding contribution to musical and literary culture,” from the University of St. Andrews. This was when Neil Corcoran says, “It seems appropriate, that his second such degree should come from Scotland’s oldest university, since Scottish border ballads and folk songs have been the inspiration for some of his melodies, and his great song ‘Highlands’ is an elaborate riff, or descant, on Robert Burns.”
Moving on, President Obama invited Dylan to play for him at the White House. This is how the President reported the event:
“Here’s what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you’d expect he would be.
“He wouldn’t come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.’ A beautiful rendition.
“The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I’m sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves.
“And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.”
Dylan has also been award a Medal of Freedom, and a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. Also he won an Academy Award for “Things have Changed” and a Golden Globe Award for the same song. Interestingly Dylan has since then had the Oscar on stage with him when performing.
Bob gives the President a tap on the shoulder on getting the Medal of Freedom.
So now we come to the Nobel Prize, and let’s be clear about this one. Bob didn’t apply; he was given it, and once given it can’t be taken away. Bob can’t reject the prize, because there is no procedure for that. He can say he doesn’t want it, if he wishes, but he will stay listed as this year’s winner of the Prize for Literature, so long as there is civilisation on the planet.
It’s up to Bob if he wants to go through with the rest of the deal. For under Nobel rules, the winner must give one lecture on literature – or of course it could be a concert – within six months. If he does, he gets $900,000 prize money. He had until June 10 next year to comply.
The lecture or concert does need not be delivered in Stockholm, although normally it is.
So that’s it. Bob does accept some awards. Bob can make speeches if he wants. Bob will respond to invitations if he wants. Bob is not dismissive of the highest office in the US – just remember his relationship with Jimmy Carter.
Maybe he will give a speech or play a concert, maybe not. But whatever he does, even if he says “I don’t want the Nobel Prize” he will still be a Nobel Laureate. Like having a hit record, once you’ve had it, you can’t renounce it. That’s not up to the songwriter. It’s up to the people who choose to buy the record. Same with the Nobels.
- Almost Done / Angel of Rain: one of the most fascinating almost lost Dylan songs
- Who loves you more? One of Dylan’s not quite lost songs from the Empire Burlesque recordings
- Go ‘way little boy – Bob Dylan meets Maria McKee. The meaning behind the music and the lyrics.
- From Danville Girl to New Danville Girl to Brownsville Girl. Dylan’s epic journey.
- Drifting too far from shore: a Dylan song with a rather bad press
- Solid Rock – Dylan as a full on preacher; God meets rock n roll