Bob Dylan Finally Delivers his Nobel Prize Lecture
  • TUESDAY, JUNE 06, 2017

  • Posted by: Caroline Bojarski

If you are a Bob Dylan fan, you need to stop whatever you're doing and listen to his Nobel Lecture. Even if you weren't a Dylan fan before, you should give it a listen, but first you should listen to a few of his albums so you can see the connections he makes between literature and his songwriting in the lecture.


Bob Dylan became the first musician to win the Nobel Prize in Literature back in October of 2016, but he didn't submit his lecture to the Swedish Academy - the organization that awards the Nobel Prize - until this week. As it turns out, he beat the June 10th deadline for delivering his lecture by just five days. The lecture is a requirement for recipients who wish to retain the Nobel Prize and the accompanying $900,000. My fellow students and I can relate to a good last minute submission for a paper or take-home final, but Dylan has locked down the procrastination crown with a down-to-the-wire required Nobel Prize lecture. As if we needed another reason to idolize this folk/rock/gospel/songwriting legend.

The lecture is not at all a haphazard, last-minute creation either. Dylan is a multi-talented artist and a bit of an enigmatic character, so I can't really say that his lecture was 'classic Dylan', but it definitely had his distinctive style. There is not a hint of gloating or self-congratulation in the entire thirty minutes, although either of these things would be acceptable from the winner of one of the most respected awards in existence. Dylan instead articulates his stream of consciousness as he tries to relate his songwriting to literature, warning within his first sentences that "...most likely it will go in a roundabout way".

And it does. After citing Buddy Holly as his first ever inspiration, he mentions three literary works whose themes appear throughout his lyrics. From that point on, the lecture feels like one of Dylan's rambling, sometimes nonsensical, sometimes funny ballads. He vividly summarizes Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey in a rapid, spoken-word frenzy that made me both shudder and laugh in confusion in all the right places.

Other than the summaries, Dylan mentions becoming one of folk music's greats by listening to folk songs. He talks about absorbing what you hear in the music until "You've heard the muffled drums and the fifes that played lowly. You've seen the lusty Lord Donald stick a knife in his wife, and a lot of your comrades have been wrapped in white linen."

Dylan emphasizes the power of music to give you a feeling of first-hand experience saying, "If a song moves you, that's all that's important." All his rambling about Ahab and Odysseus converges on the amazingly simple explanation that music is different from literature because the way the words sound can be more important than what they mean. This clearheaded explanation is all the more genius coming from the man who said "Don't wear sandals/Try to avoid the scandals/Don't want to be a bum/You better chew gum/The pumps don't work/'Cause the vandals took the handles."
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