Dylan a no-show for Nobel Prize

NEW YORK • For Bob Dylan, the nagging question of whether his songs qualify as literature was settled for good last Saturday at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm - and his presence was not required to make the case.

As the slippery folk singer forewarned, he was not there to receive the 2016 prize in literature, but he sent a warm, humble statement accepting the honour, which was read by Ms Azita Raji, the United States ambassador to Sweden, at a banquet in Stockholm.

Invoking William Shakespeare, whom Dylan imagined to have been too consumed with practical matters to bother with whether what he was doing was literature, Dylan wrote: "I, too, am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavours and dealing with all aspects of life's mundane matters. 'Who are the best musicians for these songs?' 'Am I recording in the right studio?' 'Is this song in the right key?' Some things never change, even in 400 years.

"Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, 'Are my songs literature?'" Dylan, 75, concluded.

"So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer."

Earlier in the day, the Swedish Academy defended its non-traditional selection of a musician for the literary honour. (In his prepared remarks, Dylan would acknowledge his own inscrutable silence for two weeks after the prize was announced in October: "I was out on the road when I received this surprising news and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it.")

In his speech, Horace Engdahl, a member of the Nobel Committee, called Dylan "a singer worthy of a place beside the Greek bards, beside Ovid, beside the Romantic visionaries, beside the kings and queens of the blues, beside the forgotten masters of brilliant standards".

"If people in the literary world groan," he added, "one must remind them that the gods don't write, they dance and they sing."

His speech was followed by a fittingly imperfect Patti Smith, who delivered an estimable Dylan impression on his 1963 song, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, but also proved his inimitable nature, flubbing a lyric and halting the performance midway through. "I'm sorry," she said before resuming. "I'm so nervous."

Dylan, 75, had cited "pre-existing commitments" when he declined the Nobel invitation. Exactly where he was last Saturday remained a mystery.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2016, with the headline 'Dylan a no-show for Nobel Prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe