Bob Dylan is a man that really enjoys playing hard to get. Only days before the deadline given by the Nobel academy, the singer-songwriter finally delivered his highly anticipated Nobel Prize lecture – and it is as Dylan-ish as it can get.
Since the beginning, Dylan has been dealing with this whole Nobel prize situation in a very mysterious, elusive way. It took him weeks to formally accept the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to him in October “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Surprisingly – or maybe not –, the artist didn’t show up to the ceremony in December to accept the prize. Weeks before the event, he told the Swedish Academy that he wouldn’t be in attendance of the event, as he had “preexisting commitments.” Later, in April, he showed up in Stockholm during a quick tour stop to receive the Nobel medal.
But to officially collect the title – and the $1 million cash that comes with it – all winners must deliver a lecture within six months of the official awards ceremony. Dylan’s deadline was set on June 10. No one was sure if he would actually seal the deal. But like the cool kid he is, he waited 4 days before the date to give his lecture.
Buddy Holly and ‘Moby Dick,’ Dylan’s life changing influences
Dylan’s lecture was presented in audio form. The 27-minute speech is as eccentric as the the artist himself, who recorded his spoken-word performance over a meditative cocktail bar piano arrangement. That’s even cartoonish at one point.
“When I first received this Nobel prize for literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was,” Dylan said at the humble beginning of his speech. He then proceeded to cite musicians who inspired him to become who he is.
He recalled seeing Buddy Holly play a few days before he died, saying, “He looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something. Something I didn’t know what. And it gave me the chills.” He said Holly’s music changed his life and made him want to write songs when he has a teenager.
He also mentioned poet Lead Belly and American folk music as the biggest influences in his life as a musician.
He then cited the classic novels that made a big impression on him, like the “typical grammar school reading” – as he describes them –, ‘Don Quixote’ and ‘Ivanhoe.’ He did an especial mention to Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick,’ introducing it as a fascinating book. “That’s filled with scenes of high drama and dramatic dialogue. The book makes demands on you.” He then started to narrate the book plot. Followed by a similar treatment to Erich Maria Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ and Homer’s ‘The Odyssey.’
Most of his speech is made by the long synopses of what seems a random list of books. Instead of lyric poetry, or I don’t know, something more existentialist like Sartre or Artaud. He did try to build links between those books and his songs, but the comparisons were vague. But come on, it’s Bob Dylan. We never know when to take him seriously or when he’s simply trolling each one of us.
At least the tone he uses to speak is rhythmic and soothing like it was a performance itself. And maybe it actually is, as he suddenly cuts his extensive remarks to say that meaning in literature, and in art generally, is not important. “If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means. I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs. And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means,” he said.
Almost at the end of his speech he revealed his original intention: to punctuate that “songs are unlike literature.” Songs are meant to be sung, plays are meant to be acted on the stage. None are meant to be read on a page.”
Passive-aggressive Dylan strikes again.
Listen to the entire lecture below: