Dylan remains silent after Nobel Prize win

A mural of Bob Dylan by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A mural of Bob Dylan by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • The Swedish Academy says it has given up trying to reach Bob Dylan, days after it awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature.

"Right now, we are doing nothing. I have called and sent e-mails to his closest collaborator and received very friendly replies. For now, that is certainly enough," the academy's permanent secretary, Dr Sara Danius, told state radio SR on Monday.

So far, the American troubadour has responded with silence since he won the prize last Thursday. He gave a concert in Las Vegas that very night, but made no mention of the accolade.

So - as an early Dylan song may have put it - how does it feel?

"I am not at all worried," said Dr Danius, who said the academy has been in contact with an associate of Dylan. "I think he will show up."

Every Dec 10, Nobel prize winners are invited to Stockholm to receive their awards from King Carl XVI Gustaf and to give a speech during a banquet.

The Swedish Academy still does not know if Dylan, 75, plans to go to the event.

"If he doesn't want to come, he won't come. It will be a big party in any case and the honour belongs to him," said Dr Danius.

Dylan, whose lyrics have influenced generations of fans, is the first songwriter to win the prize. The announcement set off a debate in literary circles over whether he was an appropriate choice.

Other contenders for this year's prize included Salman Rushdie, Adonis and Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

Last Friday, Dylan was at Desert Trip, the classic-rock festival in Indio, California, and again made no remarks from the stage, although observers studied his performance for any clue of a reaction, however remote.

His set at that show was almost identical to that of the first weekend, with an intriguing addition: Why Try To Change Me Now?, a chestnut written by Cy Coleman and Joseph McCarthy that Dylan included on his 2015 album, Shadows In The Night.

(The Rolling Stones, who played next, openly celebrated Dylan. "We have never shared the stage with a Nobel Prize winner before," said Mick Jagger. "Bob is like our own Walt Whitman.")

Dylan's reticence is well known. He gives relatively few interviews and, in concert, he rarely interacts with his audience. He also maintains a close command over his business affairs, to the extent that even Columbia Records, the label that has been his home for almost his entire five-decade career, seemed to be waiting for a cue from its famous artist, publishing little more than a perfunctory tweet about the Nobel.

But it is extremely unusual for a Nobel laureate to respond with radio silence. Even Alice Munro, the Canadian short-story writer who was not well enough to attend the ceremony when she won three years ago at age 82, sent her daughter to Stockholm to accept the prize on her behalf.

In the literary world, early dissent about Dylan as a choice for the award has turned into a chorus, as some writers, including the poets Amy King and Danniel Schoone- beck, have called on Dylan to turn the honour down, as Jean-Paul Sartre did in 1964.

"Will Bob Dylan even show up to the ceremony?" Schoonebeck wrote on PEN's website after the organisation asked writers and publishers to respond to the award. "Everyone already knows his records front to back, he's already a household name all over the world, does this award do anything to effect any change whatsoever?"

He added: "If he hasn't done so already, Bob Dylan should turn down the award."

Novelist Porochista Khakpour faulted the Swedish Academy for honouring a music icon over international authors who could draw overdue attention to an entire region.

"The Nobel, which is a very international prize, is such a great opportunity to introduce us to someone who we've never heard of," Khakpour said in an interview.

Dylan, who may be a contrarian or may just be unpredictable, has turned up for far-lesser honours.

He was present at the Golden Globes in 2001 to accept the award for best original song, for Things Have Changed (from Wonder Boys), giving a speech of about 15 seconds in which he thanked his band, his record company, his family "and that's about it".

When he was honoured by MusiCares, a charity connected to the Grammy Awards, last year, he stunned a roomful of jaded record executives and journalists with 35 minutes of prepared comments. He went into revealing detail about his songwriting methods and how songs can resonate - a glimpse, perhaps, at how he might handle a Nobel speech, should he choose to make one.

"These songs of mine," he said, "they're like mystery plays, the kind Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then and I think they're on the fringes now."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Dylan remains silent after Nobel Prize win'. Print Edition | Subscribe