(All Photos from Authors Music Collection)
Now comes news this morning that singer/songwriter Bob Dylan has announced he won’t be able to attend the December 10, 2016 Nobel Prize Ceremonies in Sweden. He cited “previous commitments” as the sole reason. A short observation is in order.
Ernest Hemingway (who didn’t travel to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony) stated in 1954: “A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it”. However, this is not comparable to Bob Dylan. Hemingway went on to add: “As a Nobel winner I cannot but regret that it was never given to Mark Twain, nor Henry James, speaking only of my own countrymen”. This was an example of humility, and to belabor the obvious, Hemingway was uncomfortable traveling to Sweden for any aspect of the ceremony. That was his right. This latter characteristic is similar to the dilemma faced by Dylan.
One requirement of the Swedish Academy, in the event that a recipient is unable to attend the ceremony in-person, is that they must deliver a lecture within six months after receiving notice of the prize. I suggest that Dylan’s apparent feelings of conflict is two-fold.
Like Hemingway, he is humbled by the award, which clearly caught him off guard and led to a two week delayed response while he was on tour. It should be noted that Dylan did, in fact, telephone the Academy and expressed his gratitude, along with a willingness to appear in-person at the ceremonies, “Absolutely, if at all possible.” Evidently, scheduling conflicts have prevented this option.
Second, I wish to state that throughout his life as a musician of note, Dylan has consistently shied away from the spotlight on his personal life. The late CBS News “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley became the first journalist in over two decades whom Dylan agreed to sit down with several years ago. In that filmed appearance, he listened carefully to the questions posed and replied with more than a modicum of humility to dismiss that he was never “a voice of a generation” – as historians have described him.
This morning’s news appears to this writer to be nothing more than a pained attempt by Dylan to deflect the spotlight away from himself, as an artist whose words have spoken and continue to speak for themselves in his music. This is neither an arrogant example of ego or excess. Dylan has never been comfortable in this type of limelight, including his acceptance of the Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama. At that ceremony, Dylan graciously accepted the award and departed the White House immediately. This is a reflection of grace and unease. It is also humble.
Fans of Dylan, like myself, have been accustomed on more than one occasion to be surprised by a shift of musical direction, or in this instance, plans that may work out later to the delight of the Swedish Academy and millions of admirers worldwide.