Updated: Oct 5, 2018
Back in 2016, everyone was surprised when Bob Dylan was nominated for the Nobel prize in literature. It is quite unorthodox for a songwriter to be nominated for this specific award. Perhaps the only thing more unusual about this situation was Dylan’s seeming unwillingness to acknowledge his new title of Nobel-Laureate. It took five days for his website to acknowledge the award, a notice that was quickly removed. In December, he was unable to attend the Nobel Banquet, so a speech he sent was read by the US Ambassador to Sweden. It was not until a private event in Stockholm last week, before a previously scheduled concert, that he finally received his medal. While he has now received his medal, the saga continues as he is required to release a recorded version of the lecture by June in order to keep the prize money.
The reasons why Dylan has been so unaccommodating throughout this whole process are anyone’s guess. Some may brand him as impolite and arrogant as Nobel academy member Per Wastberg has. Others may see his silence as a publicity stunt to attract attention to his work. Either way, avoiding the media and staying silent is far from out of character for Dylan, who is known for not interacting with his crowds, even going as far as to play with his back turned to the crowd at least once. On the rare occasion that he is interviewed, he often seems distracted and uncomfortable, which has led some to believe that he is just genuinely shy and does his best to keep to himself despite his fame. Whatever the true explanation, Bob Dylan’s silence and reclusiveness add an air of mystery and intrigue to the whole story.
Even when touring with other artists he maintains his isolation. Jim James of My Morning Jacket explained in an interview with Rolling Stone how he mainly communicated with the other bands through his bass player, sometimes making changes just minutes before going onstage. These eccentricities may be inconvenient, but as a whole, most who meet Dylan in person come away with a positive impression. Unfortunately, this does not always come across in concert as Bob Dylan is one of the more controversial artists when it comes to the quality of his live shows. The consensus seems to be that when he has a good show, it is a unique and wonderful experience, but that these are somewhat rare. Fortunately enough, his recorded music does not suffer from this issue of inconsistencies.
Bob Dylan’s music seems to have a uniquely polarizing effect on people, most either love it or hate it. Those in the latter camp tend to cite his wandering gravelly voice as the reason they can not jump on the bandwagon. Enough people are able to get past this to make Dylan one of the most enduringly popular musicians of our time. Not only is his music imprinted in our memories, but now he will also be remembered as the songwriter who pushed the boundaries of what is considered literature in order to win a Nobel prize.