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Thursday, 17 November 2016

Bob Dylan and Homer; Nobel Lecture in Stockholm in April?

Update: Bob Dylan writes speech for Nobel ceremony, BBC

From The Guardian - Bob Dylan tells Nobel prize committee he will not go to Sweden for ceremony

'The Swedish Academy said it “respects Bob Dylan’s decision” but stressed it is “unusual” for a Nobel laureate not to come to Stockholm to accept the award in person'.

Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Academy, "compared Dylan’s work to that of ancient Greek writers Homer and Sappho. Asked about the comparison, Dylan said: “I suppose so, in some way. Some [of my own] songs – Blind Willie, The Ballad of Hollis Brown, Joey, A Hard Rain, Hurricane and some others – definitely are Homeric in value.”

Ian Whitwham has another opinion: "I thought Bob was better than Baudelaire", he writes in SecEd: 

'I was hoping Dylan would turn the Nobel down. “I‘m speechless,” said he cryptically. He’s still touring, still subverting complacency, still writing great songs – try Blind Willie McTell or Ancient Roman Kings. He’s not a poet. He’s a performer. Above all it’s his voice – searing, bitter, cajoling, cracked, slurred, wrecked, terrifying, witty, sneering, sombre all at once – with killer lyrics, a charisma like Moses and that gorgeous, loud racket of guitars and drums. It does you in. Teachers, like Nobel Prize givers, can still kill these enthusiasms and freeze living stuff into a dead culture. It’s a crime. Don’t forget – somewhere someone is having their life changed or saved by the healing powers of rock ‘n’ roll."'

I share many of Ian's musical tastes, but I also have huge respect for the Swedish Academy and the importance of  the Nobel Prizes. The award of the Literature Prize has stimulated enthusiasm for many unfamiliar as well as famous writers; it's vital work and creates immense worldwide interest - far from "freezing stuff into a dead culture", it serves an enduring educational purpose, in the widest sense, and the decisions are often subversive, controversial or radical in terms of the expectations of national establishments. All praise to the Literature Committee.

Personally, I think Bob Dylan should have made every effort humanly possible to be there at the ceremony. Maybe he has done, but the initial delay in acknowledging the prize suggests otherwise.

He isn't Homeric - but he has written rather more than Sappho, some things almost as cryptic.

I'm now thinking twice about buying the new double CD of "the real Albert Hall concert, 1966" - and I was there at that "seismic" gig, too. I'll probably succumb: it's not yet completely frozen or dead culture - unlike some of his recent CDs.

The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert

Checking an old diary, I recorded that when he was booed at the Albert Hall concert he shouted back at some members of the audience, in a voice heavy with indifference and weary irony, "If you don't like my music, go home and read a book!" I wonder if that's on the recording.

Update, Svenska Dagbladet: some better news:

Dylan is expected to come to Stockholm in April - Bob Dylan will not participate in the award ceremony on 10 December. However, there is a possibility that he will come to Stockholm for his Nobel Lecture in April.  Dylan kommer inte till Nobelprisutdelningen - Svenska Akademien meddelar att Bob Dylan inte kommer till Stockholm för att motta Nobelpriset - Nya beskedet: Dylan väntas komma till Stockholm i april.


Visions of Johanna

It's All Over Now, Baby

Bob Dylan, The Band and Me, Robbie Robertson, BBC

Tweet from The Nobel Prize (Sara Danius)


"If you look back, far back, 2,500 years or so, you discover Homer and Sappho and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, that were meant to be performed, often with instruments -- and it's the same way with Bob Dylan," said Sara Danius, the Nobel academy's permanent secretary in an interview after the announcement. "He can be read and should be read -- he's a great poet in the English tradition."

Click on image below for video


  1. Isn´t this Swedish prize a wee bit overrated. The Emperor´s New Clothes ? Anyway - listen to Dylan´s Masters of War. Alfred Nobel was a major weapons manufacturer (Bofors Cannons, inventor of projectiles, smokefree gunpowder and of course dynamite. The Nobel Prize Group is still sponsored by the weapons industry (SAAB).

  2. I am aware of the songs- and the issues raised. Personally I don't think the Nobel Prizes are overrated. They have brought recognition to a host of deserving writers and scientists. The Swedish Academy and Nobel Prize committee members are among the most liberal, peace-loving and committed people in the world - that's what matters to me. One can argue that some questionable choices may have been made and that some deserving writers and scientists have been overlooked. Overall, the record is impressive.