Bob Dylan’s Nobel lecture

Here is some of the text via the BBC. This excerpt is about books he read when young whose influence has remained with him to this day.

“Specific books that have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school – I want to tell you about three of them: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.”

He described Moby Dick as “a fascinating book, a book that’s filled with scenes of high drama and dramatic dialogue”.

“All Quiet on the Western Front is a horror story. This is a book where you lose your childhood, your faith in a meaningful world, and your concern for individuals.

“The Odyssey is a great book whose themes have worked its way into the ballads of a lot of songwriters: Homeward Bound, Green, Green Grass of Home, Home on the Range, and my songs as well,” he said. . . .

“Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page.

“And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, ‘Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.'”

He is a worthy recipient of the prize.

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27 Responses to Bob Dylan’s Nobel lecture

  1. Megan

    Agreed. I’ve been a fan since the 60’s. The final verse from Mr Tambourine Man never fails to come to mind whenever I find myself walking on a secluded beach.

  2. Bruce of Newcastle

    He does good stuff.
    Also he’s more worthy of a Nobel than Nobel Peace Prize winners like Al Gore and Barack Obama.

  3. i agree, a well deserved award for a great talent – but it takes Joan Baez to bring some of his work to life, it’s almost like she was borne to sing his songs.

  4. Turtle of WA

    Bob Dylan has respect for tradition – in this respect he is a cultural conservative, as opposed to a postmodernist.

  5. Tracey

    I agree; a more than worthy recipient. I’ve known quite a few people over the years who profess to know none of his songs. When asked about some of their favourites they often include at least one song they never knew was written by him.

  6. Bruce

    He was mercilessly abused by the “counter-establishment” when he released the “Nashville Skyline” album. A whole new direction and a great set of songs. However, “according to the “opinion shapers”, “Dylan’s neck just got bigger and redder”, or words to that effect.

    Over a decade later, “Slow Train Coming” was excoriated by the same sort of people because of its “religious” “overtones; Nice “revolutionary Jewish boy” gets to look at Christianity. The wanna-be Guevaras didn’t like that one bit.

    Much better lyricist than tune-smith or arranger, and, let’s face it, he is no “Pavarotti, vocally, young? Bobby Zimmerman has always done what HE wanted to do, not what the “revolution” wanted him to do.

    At the same time, the toxic legacy of America’s most famous communist, Pete Seeger, rolls on; poisoning an entire musical heritage and culture.

  7. Mark M

    I also agree Bob’s worthy.
    You know you have made it when you are a parodied …
    NEIL INNES – PROTEST SONG

  8. alexnoaholdmate

    Just as an aside, I don’t agree that Shakespeare wrote for the stage.

    Yes, yes, I know, he wrote plays, and they were wildly popular at the time. Still are, of course.

    But the imagery, the subtle metaphors, are so nuanced – or sometimes the opposite, overwhelming – that it would have been absolutely impossible for an audience to grasp them live, whirling around your head so quickly that just as you’ve digested one, there’s another on top of you.

    Nobody could possibly get to the bottom of what he was saying live. He knew that what he was writing would be read on the page in ages yet to come. He wrote for us, not just for the audience in the pit.

    I prefer Shakespeare read, myself, rather than watched.

    Bob Dylan is the opposite – take the music out of it and read his words on the page, and it doesn’t really work as poetry. Add the music, and it’s sublime.

  9. alexnoaholdmate

    …but it takes Joan Baez to bring some of his work to life, it’s almost like she was borne to sing his songs

    Joan Baez singing “Diamonds and Rust” – not by Bob Dylan, but certainly about him – is an incredible experience. I remember the first time I ever heard it. It’s imprinted on my brain. It’s just that good.

  10. jtfsoon

    here’s another reason for Cat regulars to like Bob
    http://www.rightwingbob.com/weblog/bob-dylan-meets-president-sarkozy-more-notes-on-the-2009-rolling-stone-interview/5047/

    I want to just follow-up on that globalization talk you had with Sarkozy [after his April 7th show in Paris].

    Yeah, I ask him, I said, “With all these bailouts and stimulus packages, all these bailouts throughout the country. I’m just wondering whether globalism is dead in the tracks? Ya know, is it over?” He doesn’t say yes, he didn’t say no.

    Bob, he is a politician…

    Yeah!

    But what intrigued me was you saying that we must get back to being the United States.

    Oh, and he could get back to being France.

    Boy, you’re an individualist, aren’t you? Does globalism therefore get oppressive to you? The global Internet? Global economics? Are you missing what some critics call the older, weirder America?

    I never thought the older America was weird in any way whatsoever. Where do people come up with that stuff? To call it that? What’s the old weird America? The depression? Or Teddy Roosevelt? What’s old and weird? Well, musically, no. Musically we play a form of American music and that’s not gonna go away. Whatever happens in the world won’t affect that whatsoever. But you know globalism is, I would think, about getting rid of boundaries, nationalities. You’re a part of one big world, no? It might take people awhile to get used to that. I don’t like the trend.

    [again from the print article]

    When President Sarkozy, looking to make small talk, asked Dylan, “Where do you live?” the quick response was a few simple words: “Right here….No. I’m just joking. I’m from the Lone Star State.” (Dylan ended by giving Sarkozy a Texas-style belt buckle as a gift.)

  11. I agree . A damn sight better qualified than some others who have been given this prize.

    If Yasser Arafat can be awarded this prize then I have a cat killing dachshund I would like to nominate.

  12. jupes

    He is a worthy recipient of the prize.

    Oh absolutely. And as Turtle says; he has a respect for tradition.

    I was going to post one of his songs but there are just too many great ones.

  13. Jannie

    This is a beautiful soliloquy in itself.

    The Nobel people were a bit presumptuous awarding their tarnished gong to an honest man, and I imagine Dylan’s first thought would have been to ignore them or reject them.

    Dylan does not claim to be anything more than a songwriter, but he is a great deal more, he is a master of words and image. Literature or not, Dylan is a worthier artist than most recent recipients of the Nobel, but the Nobel is in itself compromised and devalued.

  14. pbw

    alexnoaholdmate,
    I couldn’t agree less, old mate. Shakespeare didn’t publish his plays. That was left to his admirers. He was too busy running a theatre in a competitive market. He wrote as well as he knew how, as well as he possibly could, not calculating the effect on generations unborn, but simply giving his all to the page in front of him. His muse was at him, nagging. She had an eye to the future, which is why she moved in. For him, the fact that

    Nobody could possibly get to the bottom of what he was saying live

    could be justified, if he was bothered by justification, in that the song that could not be plumbed at first hearing might bring the listener back to try again, and again, cash at the door.

  15. Noodles Romanoff

    I love Dylan’s music. A master of cutting lyrics. “It ain’t me babe” from “Another side of Bob Dylan” and “Don’t think twice” from “Freewheelin” spring to mind.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-Y3KfJs6T0
    You can’t beat it with a stick.

  16. C.L.

    He described Moby Dick as “a fascinating book, a book that’s filled with scenes of high drama and dramatic dialogue”.

    That sounds like something a 12 year-old says in a lecturette.

  17. .

    Great Soon’s Ghost!

    Paranormal activity!

    I reckon Dylan ought to deliver his lecture in the cadence of Subterranean Homesick Blues or he can fuck off.

  18. C.L.
    #2405210, posted on June 7, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    He described Moby Dick as “a fascinating book, a book that’s filled with scenes of high drama and dramatic dialogue”.

    That sounds like something a 12 year-old says in a lecturette.

    Bollocks. Your average 2017 12 year old would describe it as ‘Like, awesome. That bit about the whale was beyond words’ (becoz i don’t have any of my own).

  19. Dianeh

    Beer Whisperer

    Agree not like a 12 year old at all. Because no 12 year old I know would even read Moby Dick.

    I know a few. I have a 12 yo daughter. She likes to read but not the classics although did like Charlotte’s Web. So did my 11 yo son, which was a surprise.

  20. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    I prefer Shakespeare read, myself, rather than watched.
    Bob Dylan is the opposite – take the music out of it and read his words on the page, and it doesn’t really work as poetry. Add the music, and it’s sublime.

    I agree.

    Planet Waves – disliked and put down by many, but I loved it – hadn’t heard it at all till I met Hairy.

    Black Diamond Bay in ‘Planet Waves’ I like particularly; under the volcano, life’s metaphor. You make your own tale of its assortment of iconic cultural images – the white verandah, the marble floor, the chandelier, the necktie and Panama hat, the rope – and personnel: the Greek, the Soviet Ambassador, the gambler, the loser, the desk clerk with a Fez, the dealer, the tiny man, the last ship sailing, the waiting horse-drawn taxi, the diamond ring offered by the soldier to the girl, the girl with a past but no future (“her passport shows a face, from another time and place, she looks nothing like that”).

    ‘And the desk clerk said it happens every day’.

    It has a ‘Bridge at San Luis Reay’, an ‘all tumbling towards doom’ quality.
    “as the boiler in the basement blew’.

    Without the redemption?
    ‘seems there was an earthquake there
    left nothing but a Panama hat
    and pair of old Greek shoes’.

    No wonder Dylan sought God with that head full of imagery in every song. As we all might.

  21. Roger

    Thanks for putting this up, Steve.

    As someone noted up thread, it reveals that Dylan is a cultural conservative, a traditionalist in his own fashion given his limited formal education (but compare that to the poverty of education today!).

    On Shakespeare, don’t underestimate the richness of the oral culture of his time; his words were only written down in order to be spoken/acted on stage, just as the Authorised Version of the Bible was translated to be read aloud from the lectern and pulpit or at the family table. (Perhaps the relative poverty of modern prose and poetry stems from our habit of reading silently?)

  22. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    My eldest son read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbitt’ at twelve y.o. Also ‘The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. My nephew read ‘The Hunger Games’ at twelve y.o. and ‘Lord of the Flies’. They are two very different boys, but they are both readers. They handle difficult books well.

    I read the original ‘Pinocchio’ when I was ten; it was terrifying It was given to me by the old Lezzo antique bookseller called Max, across the alleyway from Nana’s tiny flat in England. I also read Black Beauty, from the school library, on Grandad’s recommendation as he’d worked with horses once, and ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’. Fauntleroy, with it’s Edwardian picture of a heartbroken mother and her son silver-embossed on the cover, was on my Grandad’s one shelf of books. A coalminer, he called himself a ‘free thinker’ and I have no idea why Fauntleroy was there, possibly inherited from his mother. His other books were about war or unions. I wept over Fauntleroy’s ‘darling mother’ in this rather sickly tale of money and power vs love, which I enjoyed at the time.

    When I was 18 a very cultivated old Persian gentleman from Point Piper lent me Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ and ‘The Discourses’, even though I hardly knew him. You should read this, was his advice to the young advertising copywriter I had turned myself into by that time.

    So I read a lot of ‘older’ books when quite young. I don’t think it hurt me; same for my children.

  23. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    Shakespeare wrote for himself, for the sounds of the words in their forming.
    He didn’t expect everything to be dramatized; his sonnets are just for reading.

    I can’t enjoy Shakespeare when it is overdone by some ‘expressive’ actor.
    Silent contemplation at the beauty of the words and the depth of meaning are best for me.

  24. Roger

    Writing plays was how he and his actors earned their bread and butter. I don’t think he had the luxury of spending time writing his plays for his own enjoyment alone. And until modern times poetry was always written with an ear for reading it aloud, Lizzie. Of course, that’s not to say we shouldn’t read it silently and can’t enjoy it that way.

    Be that as it may, Dylan’s humility after all these years in the spotlight is reassuring. That motorcycle crash at the zenith of his fame in 1966 saved his life in many ways.

  25. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    Shakespeare wrote for himself, for the sounds of the words in their forming.

    I am not saying here he wasn’t aware of how the words would sound when spoken.
    Nor of the fact that he was writing them as an enterprise in sales. 🙂
    I think what I mean is that he ‘spoke’ them to himself first, enjoying their cadence.
    As first hearer. Let us not forget that he was an actor before he was a playwright.

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