June 5, 2017

Bob Dylan finally delivers his Nobel Prize lecture...

... just in time to collect the $900,000, the NYT tells us.

Here's the audio:



Text here. I haven't listened/read yet, but I'm going to do both right now and I'll add to this post as I do.

ADDED: In the first sentence, Bob accepts that task implied by the prize, "wondering exactly how my songs related to literature." He shows his wondering, "in a roundabout way."

1. When he was 18, he saw Buddy Holly in concert, and he saw in Buddy "[e]verything I wasn't and wanted to be." The in-concert feeling was "electrifying." It wasn't just the words but the entire "presence" of the man and the music. Buddy "looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something." Buddy passed on his powers, and then Buddy passed on out of this world.

2. Bob got a copy of a Leadbelly recording of "Cottonfields," and that "transported" him, as if he'd been "walking in darkness and all of the sudden the darkness was illuminated. It was like somebody laid hands on me." He doesn't say religion, but he uses the language of religion. He's a convert to folk music. It's "more vibrant and truthful to life" than the "radio songs" he grew up with.  He starts to play: "By listening to all the early folk artists and singing the songs yourself, you pick up the vernacular. You internalize it." You get to "know that Stagger Lee was a bad man and that Frankie was a good girl." Bob absorbed "all the devices, the techniques, the secrets, the mysteries" and, as he wrote songs, figured out how to "make it all connect and move with the current of the day."

3. He credits "typical grammar school reading" for giving him "principals [sic!] and sensibilities and an informed view of the world."  He lists Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, and Tale of Two Cities, but he wants to talk in depth about 3 works of literature, Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey.

4. Moby Dick—"Everything is mixed in. All the myths: the Judeo Christian bible, Hindu myths, British legends, Saint George, Perseus, Hercules – they're all whalers. Greek mythology, the gory business of cutting up a whale. Lots of facts in this book, geographical knowledge, whale oil – good for coronation of royalty – noble families in the whaling industry... We see only the surface of things. We can interpret what lies below any way we see fit." What's that Bob Dylan song with Captain Ahab, I start wondering, but it's hard to search for at bobdylan.com because in the song — "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" — it's Captain Arab (but I called it up by searching for "collateral," remembering, as I did, the line "They asked me for some collateral/And I pulled down my pants").

5. All Quiet on the Western Front — "You don't understand why the war isn't over. The army is so strapped for replacement troops that they're drafting young boys who are of little military use, but they're draftin' ‘em anyway because they're running out of men. Sickness and humiliation have broken your heart. You were betrayed by your parents, your schoolmasters, your ministers, and even your own government.... You've come to despise that older generation that sent you out into this madness, into this torture chamber.... Then a piece of shrapnel hits the side of your head and you're dead. You've been ruled out, crossed out. You've been exterminated. I put this book down and closed it up. I never wanted to read another war novel again, and I never did." Bob doesn't come out and say, and that's where I got my protest music. He says: "Charlie Poole from North Carolina had a song that connected to all this. It's called 'You Ain't Talkin' to Me,'" and he quotes those lyrics, protest song lyrics.

6.  The Odyssey — the story of "a grown man trying to get home after fighting in a war." "He's a travelin' man, but he's making a lot of stops," says Bob, gesturing at but not naming Ricky Nelson, whose song "Travelin' Man" begins "I'm a travelin' man, I've made a lot of stops, all over the world." Bob talked about that song in his memoir "Chronicles: Volume One": "One afternoon I was... pouring Coke into a glass from a milk pitcher when I heard a voice coming cool through the screen of the radio speaker. Ricky Nelson was singing his new song, 'Travelin’ Man.' Ricky had a smooth touch... He sang his songs calm and steady like he was in the middle of a storm... I had been a big fan of Ricky’s and still liked him, but that type of music was on its way out. It had no chance of meaning anything. There’d be no future for that stuff in the future." Ricky sang those "radio songs" (see #2, above). Bob identifies with the travelin' man Odysseus. He speaks of himself in the second person: "You too have had drugs dropped into your wine. You too have shared a bed with the wrong woman. You too have been spellbound by magical voices, sweet voices with strange melodies... You have angered people you should not have. And you too have rambled this country all around. "

7. Bob asks: "So what does it all mean?" But he won't say what it means: "I've written all kinds of things into my songs. And I'm not going to worry about it – what it all means. When Melville put all his old testament, biblical references, scientific theories, Protestant doctrines, and all that knowledge of the sea and sailing ships and whales into one story, I don't think he would have worried about it either – what it all means."

8. Bob just wants to be alive, like Achilles, who told Odysseus that it's no good being dead: "And that if he could, he would choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on Earth rather than be what he is – a king in the land of the dead – that whatever his struggles of life were, they were preferable to being here in this dead place." Bob doesn't mention it, but he's got a song called "Temporary Like Achilles." ("Achilles is in your alleyway/He don’t want me here, he does brag/He’s pointing to the sky/And he’s hungry, like a man in drag...").

9. Bob began "wondering exactly how my songs related to literature," and he ends saying "songs are unlike literature." "They're meant to be sung, not read." They're "alive in the land of the living."

65 comments:

Unknown said...

I hope he delivered it in Palindromes, like Weird Al's fantastic parody of Bob Dylan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUQDzj6R3p4


You might get a kick out of that video, Ann.
--Vance

Etienne said...

He really dragged that out.

Hopefully he will use the money to build mosques for the Moslims in Europe.

madAsHell said...

He has a funny accent....or maybe he puts an emphasis on a different syllable...or his phrasing is unfamiliar.

pacwest said...

JIT!

Mike Sylwester said...

Ann, less than a year from now you will be embarrassed that you did not write one post critical of Bob Dylan while he was being awarded the Nobel Prize in 2016.

madAsHell said...

It almost sounds like a bunch of lyrics that never made it into a song.

Every few years, someone will slog through recordings left behind by Hendrix, and compile a new album. You buy the album, and then realize why the recordings were left behind.

surfed said...

surfed said...
"Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Tyravels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading..."

Typical gramnar school reading in 1950 maybe. Certainly not in the public schools of 2017.
Bob grew up in a world where high school educated people could invent the airplane. That world - our world - is long gone now. But I'm glad to have lived through it with Bob as a muse. Our Homer if you will.

Owen said...

Strange intonation and sentence fragments like a stoner poem. Not sure it succeeds but it is so strange that it is hard to judge.

If this represents his basic mindset I can only pity him.

tcrosse said...

Our Homer if you will.

Doh!

Handmade Soap said...

Old times love it

Virtually Unknown said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUQDzj6R3p4

Weird Al deserves a hot link.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

--Vance

That weird Al video was art! I just lost 45 minutes to Weird Al on YouTube. Word Crimes and Amish Paradise were great. I didn't know he was still making Parodies.

Thanks!

Owen said...

He pulls the threads together a bit at the end.

Why the odd intonation? Is that his way of forcing us to listen? Or to reMEMber that it's BOB who is SPEAKing to US? Is this a disguised Homeric verse?

AReasonableMan said...

tcrosse said...
Our Homer if you will.

Doh!


:)

traditionalguy said...

He connects at the level I have lived. Alive and aware of it all.

Owen said...

Homeric verse = dactylic hexameter. I would like to see Dylan's words laid out, maybe with line breaks if he has them...

As for the structure of his work, it too has something Homeric about it. An origin story, nested narratives with epithet-like descriptions of strange and dangerous happenings that befall the hero, who goes forth, survives terrible danger, and returns to tell his tales.

Starting to respect Dylan a bit more on this piece...

EDH said...

Compare that speech, voice and $900k fee to a Clinton perfunctory high paid run through.

Nobel Foundation even got the copyright.

I call that a bargain by comparison.

David Begley said...

"Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest...."

Not being taught in grade school today; much less high school.

traditionalguy said...

Dylan as Odysseus : a Traveling Man who made a lot of stops.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

I'm in no position to judge, and am not even as great a Dylan fan as people who find him great should be. But it's starting interestingly enough.

If you want to hear one hell of a literary contribution by a musician's speech, try that Bruce Springsteen yarn at SXSW. It's the best oral prose recollection (with plenty of poetry thrown in) of the impact of music on people who have made some of the music we like best.

David Begley said...

"I don't know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good."

That quote pretty much sums up Dylan for me. But I'm no expert.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

Ok. This speech is way too fast-paced, and rambling. And derivative. He's not really talking much about what he's learned or tried to do, but retelling detailed scenes he liked in works that influenced him while young. He's now stuck in a several minutes-long diatribe of a Cliffs Notes version of Moby Dick.

Sydney said...

"John Donne as well, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, "The Sestos and Abydos of her breasts. Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests." I don't know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good."

This is what I have always suspected. It's the cadence he goes for, not the meaning.

FullMoon said...

"He's not really talking much about what he's learned or tried to do,.."
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Not doing what you want him to do, then? Well, excuuuuse me!

Chris N said...

Meh.

Owen said...

Sydney: "...the cadence he goes for, not the meaning." In music, the cadence is part of the meaning.

A lot of poetry starts with a beat or a tone that opens up some emotion, and then words flock to it like birds to early light.

I think we are watching and hearing a poet talking to his muse.

Certainly fun, and a damned sight better than telling Goldman Sachs what they already knew.

Bob said...

> 'Buddy "looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something." Buddy passed on his powers, and then Buddy passed on out of this world.'

Alternatively, Zimmerman looked him in the eye and sucked out his soul, and Holly was dead soon after.

St. George said...
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St. George said...

" If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important."

traditionalguy said...

For the newbies: Dylan wants to communicate with you, but he wants to get a communication back from very hard to understand people. So he throws out every angle he sees and hopes that works. And he never gives up...kind of optimistic of him.

Sally327 said...

What does it all mean?
.
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind.

Original Mike said...

"... just in time to collect the $900,000"

I can't write without a deadline either.

Once written, twice... said...

I do share Ann's reverence of Bob Dylan. He is anything but a Hillbilly, but wearing Hillbilly clothes.

FullMoon said...

Once written, twice... said...

I do share Ann's reverence of Bob Dylan. He is anything but a Hillbilly, but wearing Hillbilly clothes.


He's just average, and common too, just like him, the same as you.

Owen said...

Bob: "...sucked out his soul..." Cold, man. Cold.

But possibly correct. See "metempsychosis." Buddy Holly jumped into some adolescent drifter's body and is with us still.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

That's good stuff. I'd say the prize committee got its money's worth.

Bob said...

Bob: "...sucked out his soul..." Cold, man. Cold.

But possibly correct. See "metempsychosis." Buddy Holly jumped into some adolescent drifter's body and is with us still.


If Dylan's literary influences are as he says, he would understand that:

Oh! my friends, but this is man-killing! Yet this is life. For hardly have we mortals by long toilings extracted from the world's vast bulk its small but valuable sperm; and then, with weary patience, cleansed ourselves from its defilements, and learned to live here in clean tabernacles of the soul; hardly is this done, when -- There she blows! -- the ghost is spouted up, and away we sail to fight some other world, and go through young life's old routine again.

Oh! the metempsychosis! Oh! Pythagoras, that in bright Greece, two thousand years ago, did die, so good, so wise, so mild; I sailed with thee along the Peruvian coast last voyage -- and, foolish as I am, taught thee, a green simple boy, how to splice a rope!

William said...

Well, you can't accuse him of cultural appropriation for going after Buddy Holly. I thought Woody Guthrie was the big deal in his life.

Owen said...

Bob. I bow down!

Awesome.

rcocean said...

Its a nice speech and it sounds much better than it reads. But he has the weirdest accent, it must be his own homemade one.

BTW, you can find Steinbeck's, Hemmingway's, and Faulkner's Nobel prize speeches on Youtube. None of them spoke for more than 5 minutes.

Dylan spoke for 27.

FullMoon said...

William said...

Well, you can't accuse him of cultural appropriation for going after Buddy Holly. I thought Woody Guthrie was the big deal in his life.

6/5/17, 7:24 PM


I remember him saying Chuck Berry was major influence before folk stuff.

All true, no doubt.

donald said...

I completely and totally love this guy.

D. said...

I was hoping for Dylan to do a recitation Enoch Powell's "Rivers of blood" speach.
Just to piss off eurofags.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643823/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html

Virtually Unknown said...

So he did take it seriously.

Gary Snodgrass said...

What struck me was how much he doesn't sound like a college professor. Thankfully. Most Nobel Literature winners sound like they are full of themselves. Dylan sounds like a guy I could share a beer with.

wildswan said...

In the Fifties and Sixties they were saying that art had become too remote - Henry James, Finnegan's Wake, Virginia Woolf - and that it had to get out and reconnect with the people. When folk music revived it was supposed to be part of that reconnection and in that era Dylan came along. He and people like him were considered to be bringing art to the people. That was said at the time. So I think what Dylan is doing is just looking back and saying: "When I was young this was art _ Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, Odysseus - and this was music - Buddy Holly, Leadbelly. And I joined the two arts. Is it "literature"? Well, just be sure you hear the music or you can't judge if it's literature." If you hear his lines throughout your life as I have, that seems right. He carried on the tradition which is one of the criteria for "literature". And also I know that people who are seventeen now know a lot of his songs so he meets another of the criteria for literature - that it lasts, that it speaks across generations.

clint said...

"9. Bob began "wondering exactly how my songs related to literature," and he ends saying "songs are unlike literature." "They're meant to be sung, not read." They're "alive in the land of the living.""

Like the Odyssey.

walter said...

"calm and steady like he was in the middle of a storm"
Odd way to describe Ricky Nelson's voice.
But then, how hungry is a man in drag?

Etienne said...
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Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Limited blogger said...

Thanks for breaking that down, Ann. Great stuff.

David said...

Not like literature. "They are meant to be sung, not read."

In the speech, which is meant to be read not sung, he is saying that it's curious that he got a prize for literature, because his songs are songs and literature is something else. And thank you for the tax free million dollars. For songs. Not literature.

Bob has had a long life of people sucking up to him. He handles it pretty well.

Bob Ellison said...

He doesn't have the songwriter's curse of worrying whether his stuff has been done before.

M Jordan said...

What a slap at the Nobel committee. Dylan basically just mocked their selection of him as a man if letters. Hilarious. And it makes me like him all the more.

Henry said...

That's well worth listening to. Thank you. Finally, Jack Kerouac wins the Nobel prize.

(But unlike Jack, Bob knows how to take a step back, and survive.)

M Jordan said...

I'm guessing Dylan hasn't read a literary novels since high school.

William said...

He named himself after Dylan Thomas. That poet must have had some influence on his life.

Dave from Minnesota said...

Alternatively, Zimmerman looked him in the eye and sucked out his soul, and Holly was dead soon after.

The Holly story from that last weekend is interesting. They played at the Duluth Armory on a Saturday night (which Dylan attended)...took an overnight bus that was supposed to go to Appleton Wisc for a Sunday afternoon show. Bus broke down in northern Wisconsin and death by hypothermia was a possibility. The gang was taken to the Rhinelander hospital. The next morning they boarded the Flambeau 400 train at Rhinelander for Green Bay. Appleton show was cancelled but they played the Riverside ballroom in Green Bay Sunday night. Then went all the way to Clear Lake Iowa for that last show on Sunday night.

Dave from Minnesota said...

Much of Bob Dylan's success has been created to his Hibbing High School English teacher, B.J. Rolfzen.

From an online story about him:
"He was just magic," she said. "You could see where someone like a young Robert Zimmerman coming from here, to have B.J. teaching him poetry and literature, he'd be inspired and create his own language and poetry."

He taught English in Hibbing for 30 years, first at the high school, then at Hibbing Community College. Why pay $67,000 a year to go to a private liberal arts school when you could go to Hibbing Community College and be taught by the man who helped make Bob Dylan who he is. (well, he retired and has passed away now, but you get the idea)

mtrobertslaw said...

So that's what grammar school was like in those ancient times. That explains a lot.

roesch/voltaire said...

What a great muse this Dylan has as he tangles and untangles biblical stories, Moby Dick and the mythical journey of discovery we all take-- thanks.

Earnest Prole said...

Without plagiarism there would be no culture.

BN said...

The Beach Boys' Nobel speech would have been better than Bob's if only Brian hadn't dropped too much acid.

SukieTawdry said...

Well, that was very Bob, wasn't it. I don't know that Dylan ever attached any meaning to his songs. They just sorta came out of him. I heard him castigate an interviewer once for assuming he opposed the Vietnam war. He never said if he did or he didn't, just that people shouldn't assume anything in particular about him from his music.

So basically, he rejected the award but collected the money. I guess that fits.

Sarah Rolph said...

He does say "songs are unlike literature" in his closing passage, but what he means is that songs are a different type of literature; the point of the passage, indeed the point of the whole speech, in my view, is that song is part of the literature, broadly speaking. In that final passage he continues, "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 saying that each art must be appreciated in its own way, and at the end he is making the lovely point that the literary tradition he is part of, that he is being honored for, began in a distant time when song and story were one.

I think the speech is beautiful.