Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Few Comments in Response to Bob Dylan's Nobel Lecture

If you're a Dylan fan then you already know he fulfilled the requirements necessary to receive the prize he was awarded last December. He produced and delivered an acceptance speech within the designated six month time limit. In a statement, the Swedish Academy secretary Sara Danius called it "extraordinary" and "eloquent." Journalists around the world quickly offered commentary on the speech and the man who wrote it.

Breaking it apart there are several highlights. First, the manner in which it was delivered. Second, the substance of what was delivered.

In regards to the how of it, The New Yorker's Alexandra Schwartz offered a pretty good summary here in her article, "The Rambling Glory of Bob Dylan's Nobel Speech."

"Dylan made a recording of his text, speaking for twenty-seven minutes over a smoky, meditative jazz-piano arrangement. Not for him, the sombre pomp of the podium. He sounds like a lounge singer lost in contemplative patter, just letting the thoughts flow. Pour yourself a whiskey, honey, pull up a chair, and stay awhile." 

The feeling I got was something akin to Garrison Keillor's Guy Noir, the piano plinking, ice stirring in the gin glass.

As for the content, Justin Bariso does a breakout on paragraph one in this Inc. article, "It Took Bob Dylan Less Than 30 Seconds to Teach a Remarkable Lesson in Emotional Intelligence."

Paragraph two warmed the hearts of many locals here in Duluth as Dylan reiterated what he's noted before, that Buddy Holly's Winter Dance Party at the Duluth Armory was a spark that ignited something deep in the soul of young Robert Zimmerman. I find it interesting that this time around Bob states he was "six feet away" when Buddy Holly looked at him. Years ago Dylan said, "I was three feet away from him... and he looked at me." My take is that the literal meaning here is that Buddy Holly was right there in front of him with nothing in between, and it may have been seven feet or five, but for sure it made an impression.

Dylan summarizes three books which spoke to him on a deeper level and influenced some of his songwriting: Moby Dick, All Quiet On The Western Front and the Odyssey.

Of Moby Dick he states, "This book tells how different men react in different ways to the same experience. A lot of Old Testament, biblical allegory: Gabriel, Rachel, Jeroboam, Bildah, Elijah. Pagan names as well: Tashtego, Flask, Daggoo, Fleece, Starbuck, Stubb, Martha’s Vineyard. The Pagans are idol worshippers. Some worship little wax figures, some wooden figures. Some worship fire."

Of All Quiet he elaborates on the horrors of war. "Day after day, the hornets bite you and worms lap your blood. You’re a cornered animal. You don’t fit anywhere. The falling rain is monotonous. There’s endless assaults, poison gas, nerve gas, morphine, burning streams of gasoline, scavenging and scabbing for food, influenza, typhus, dysentery. Life is breaking down all around you, and the shells are whistling. This is the lower region of hell. Mud, barbed wire, rat-filled trenches, rats eating the intestines of dead men, trenches filled with filth and excrement. Someone shouts, 'Hey, you there. Stand and fight.'"

It (All Quiet on the Western Front) goes downhill from here... to the point that you despise the people who sent you to this hell hole. The book is a powerful indictment of the way wars are fought, including the exemptions of privilege and the other injustices that accompany this life.

Dylan begins his exposition of The Odyssey like this. "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."

You can, and should, read the lecture in its entirety. It will provide insights on why he continued to sing Masters of War for five decades and where many of his other songs came from.

There were plenty of other assessments of this speech. You will find it a worthwhile read and you should take the time if you are able. Or just listen to it. A little like Bob's Theme Time Radio Hour.

Good stuff.

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