By Allen Callaci
One can say that it is impolite and arrogant. — Swedish academy member Per Wastberg on Bob Dylan’s refusal to acknowledge his Nobel Prize publicly.
Dear distinguished Nobel Committee members working so diligently to determine for the rest of us unrefined drooling cretins what is culturally worthy, important, and significant:
Let me begin by thanking you for your “foresight” and “edge” in bestowing the Nobel on Dylan. It only took you a “mere” five decades to acknowledge the cultural impact of a man who created a Civil Rights anthem, added phrases such as “the times they are-a-changin’,” “the answer is blowin’ in the wind,” and “knockin’ on Heaven’s door,” to the common vernacular and who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Pulitzer Prize, and Kennedy Center Honors (I would have also noted Dylan’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame but the recent induction of Chicago and the Red Hot Chili Peppers into the Hall rendered that honor as insignificant and meaningless as my second-grade perfect attendance award at Cabrillo Elementary).
The accolades bestowed upon you for making such a BOLD choice are well deserved. You really went all the way out on that proverbial ledge by acknowledging that poetry backed by music could still be considered poetry. Risky choice, indeed. Who knows what made you finally come to this sexy, shocking, and dangerous conclusion. I bet that someone on the committee Googled “Bob Dylan” during lunch break and discovered that Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman but renamed himself ‘Bob Dylan’ after an “actual-honest-to-goodness-peer-approved-poet” Dylan Thomas (although ironically that Dylan never received the Nobel).
It must sting to find the courage to invite Bob to your big dance, to be met with stony silence, and left waiting on the doorstep with the corsage still in your hand. Keep your chin up. If you’ve followed Dylan like I have over the years, you will know not to take this too personally. This is just Bob being Bob. A “Rolling Stone” as the song goes. An artist in constant motion who gathers no dust. Just when you think he is a folksinger he’ll go electric on you. Then he’ll go Nashville. Then he’ll go Christian. And then he’ll release an entire record of songs made famous by Frank Sinatra. He has always been an iconoclastic contrarian challenging his listeners and sticking a finger in the eye of every established institution and expectation that has come his way.
I know I shouldn’t laugh at your embarrassing predicament. Part of me just can’t help it. I apologize, but the most wickedly funny thing to me about Dylan stepping back from the Nobel has been watching some of these self-selected guardians of cultural arts pouting and bellowing like toddlers before naptime at the mere thought of Dylan being bestowed a Nobel and being allowed a seat at their table. It brings to mind a classic Marx Brothers movie wherein Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s anarchic spirit deliciously crashes and collides into upper-crust society. Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley fretted “I will be called a fogey, a snob, elitist, etc. On this point, I don’t care! The culture is demonstrably poorer than it was a few decades ago and this has an impact upon politics.” Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh was even more comically aghast than Stanley. Welsh lashed out like a petulant teenager at Thanksgiving dinner upon hearing the news of Dylan’s Nobel. “This is an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”
Why all this defensiveness and bile over one man’s non-acceptance of an award? I stopped believing in awards back in 1981 when Chariots of Fire beat out Raiders of the Lost Ark for Best picture at the Oscars. Awards don’t make artists, their work does.
At the age of nine I began really listening to Dylan. I had no clue as to the contours and depths of the words spewing out from my small, banged-up Spider-Man stickered plastic portable plug-in turntable. As I sat cross-legged on my bedroom floor, I knew that what churned out of that turntable made a lot more moral sense to me than what I heard at the CCD classes I attended every Wednesday night at St. Joseph’s. Dylan posed complex, uncomfortable questions. He voiced painful and poetic observations. He gave no quarter, no powdered-up, dumb-downed answers, and no sugarcoated platitudes.
He gave everything but offered nothing, which truly merits awards.
As your committee licks it sores and begins slowly peeling the bandages from its bruised ego regarding Dylan’s apparent rejection, ask yourself what kind of man could be so “impolite” and “arrogant” as to turn a cold shoulder to such an “honor.” I leave you with a portrait of another prickly truth-teller, written by Dylan that acts as an acute reflection of both its subject and the man who penned it:
Lenny Bruce is dead but his ghost lived on and on
Never did get any Golden Globe award, never made it to Synanon
He was an outlaw, that’s for sure
More of an outlaw than you ever were
Lenny Bruce is gone but his spirit’s living on and on.