will he? won’t he?

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A bit like a rolling stone, Bob Dylan, kinda passed me by. Being a child of the 70s, the likes of Marc Bolan & Slade much more caught my ear and the only thing I was likely to protest about was the inverse relationship between the size of curly wurlies and the width of my flares. So, it was with a level of detachment that I observed the recent hoo-hah concerning the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

His lack of respectful acknowledgement has led to apoplexy within thesps the world over, with the Swedish Academy describing him as “impolite and arrogant” and warning that if he doesn’t get in touch sharpish, it will be unlikely he’ll be given the $900,000 prize. Apparently, the grateful recipient has to agree beforehand to give a lecture in order to receive the cash, which makes me consider the independent & objective nature of the award in the first place. Furthermore, it seems to me that the august body itself seems far more concerned about the impugning of its own reputation by this perceived snub than actually debating the relevance, or otherwise, of Dylan to the world of literature. Why, the cynic in me may even claim that the self-serving Nobel Committee will be secretly delighted by this particular storm in its tea-cup as it keeps the ivory-towered entity squarely in the news. Who’d’ve ever thought that they, along with the Man-Booker and Turner prizes, thrive on media controversy…

I’m quite prepared to accept, from my relatively ignorant perspective, that ol’ Bob’s a good songwriter as I can whistle along to several of his ditties and, apparently, more people can quote his lyrics than they can Shakespeare. I also get that lines such as ‘Once upon a time you dressed so fine/Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?’ have a certain metre and rhyme to them, but do they constitute great literature? For me, lyrics are not written, envisaged or performed in isolation: there’s a melody and there’s an accompaniment to convey the message, be it the strum of a guitar, the kick of a bass drum or the whoop of a Wurlitzer. In short, it’s about the song, stoopid.

So was his lack of emotional recognition really such a surprise? If they’d have done their homework the committee would’ve found that Dylan has previous in this department. As long ago as 2004, when he was made an honoury ‘Doctor of Music’ by St Andrews University, he turned up 50 minutes late for the ceremony, yawned and fidgeted throughout the expansive eulogy and left without a word of thanks or farewell. And no recogniser of status, after his White House rendition of ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ he merely shook the President’s hand, tipped his head and off he’s, gone. To his credit, Barack Obama, was delighted: “He didn’t want to take a picture with me, or Michelle, and that’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little sceptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.”

Reading this, Dylan certainly went up in my regard as he obviously needs neither plaudit nor cash, and will he, or won’t he, attend the awards ceremony on the 10th December? Showing himself to be one of the world’s last true ‘rock stars’ I dearly hope he’s notable only by his absence, as he sticks it to the man one more time!