Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature for good reason. The songwriter has helped millions come to terms with and articulate the human soul’s ambiguities, contradictions, bright lights and dark holes. This 75-year-old troubadour who’s still playing scores of concerts annually worldwide ostensibly deserves this prize.
That said, it’s one thing to be awarded the Nobel, and it’s another to accept it.
Dylan presumably has recognized being awarded the Nobel Award. Nearly two weeks after the Oct. 13 announcement of his award, however, he has not yet officially commented on it. In addition, notification that the award had been bestowed to him was only briefly posted on his webpage before being taken down. If this is any indication of reticence on his part to accept the award, what could be on his mind?
Here’s a thought:
Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and was one of the original (to quote from one Dylan song) “Masters of war/You that build the big bombs” — i.e. he not only was a major producer of modern cannon, but also was one of the first modern armament producers. In addition, a premature obituary of Nobel, calling him a “merchant of death,” presumably inspired Nobel to turn philanthropist by creating the prizes.
At the last concert Dylan performed before the Nobel Prize Committee announced Dylan’s win, his final encore song was “Masters of War.” The song’s penultimate verse reads: “Let me ask you one question/Is your money that good?/Will it buy you forgiveness?/Do you think that it could?/I think you will find/When death takes its toll/All the money you made/Will never buy back your soul.”
In several concerts immediately following the announcement out of Stockholm, Dylan’s last encore song — made famous by Frank Sinatra — is fit prelude to a possible rejection of the award by Dylan: “Why Try to Change Me Now?”
If there is any question in Dylan’s mind regarding how to square the Nobel award with the ethics of philanthropy, here’s one more thought (a revision, by the way, of another great Dylan line): “There’s no success like the Nobel/And the Nobel is no success at all.”
Dylan could, in other words, honor the award in some way for the sake of all the songwriters who feel ennobled by Dylan being awarded such an honor — but not accept the award on the grounds of his forever after being associated with (and thereby tacitly endorsing) the origins of the institution of the Nobel awards, which includes a “master of war” who “built to destroy.”
There is, of course, precedent here. Jean Paul Sartre did not accept the Nobel Prize for Literature award in 1964, claiming, among other things, that he did not want to be “institutionalized.”
We’ll eventually see what it is on Dylan’s mind, but perhaps not until the Dec. 10 Nobel acceptance ceremony.
Jamie Lorentzen lives in Frontenac, Minn.