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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

2016 in review: Bob Dylan’s bizarre Nobel Prize in Literature for song lyrics

The choice of Bob Dylan as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature surprised many, but what happened afterwards surprised even more.
‘Bob Dylan, Lyrics 1962-2001’ awaits future sales at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany, after the US musician waw awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. AFP Photo / Amelie Querfurth
‘Bob Dylan, Lyrics 1962-2001’ awaits future sales at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany, after the US musician waw awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. AFP Photo / Amelie Querfurth

Given his previous acceptance of Grammy Awards and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Swedes behind the Nobel Prize in Literature felt confident that Bob Dylan would welcome their prestigious gong – and their cheque for 8 million Swedish Krona (Dh3.18m) – with open arms.

Initially, though, it seemed Dylan failed to heed the advice of his own song Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, and was ambivalent about the prize, previously won by heavyweights such as WB Yeats and John Steinbeck.

Did Dylan feel unworthy? Was he secretly writing a many-versed song of thanks crammed with Swedish-themed imagery? For two weeks, pet theories raged while Per Wästberg, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature, called Dylan “impolite and arrogant” for not returning their calls.

Dylan’s confirmation that he would be accepting the award came via a scoop for UK newspaper The Telegraph. Edna Gundersen was interviewing Dylan about an exhibition of his artworks, but popped the Nobel question on everybody’s lips. “Amazing, incredible,” he said. “Whoever dreams about something like that?”

The Nobel Committee for Literature then reported it had received a call of acceptance from Dylan, and on November 16, a note on its website confirmed a letter had been sent.

It said, however, that he would not be attending the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony on December 10 because of pre-existing commitments. But, as his website stated he had no further gigs this year, people wondered what those might be. Was he washing his hair that night?

In return for Dylan’s acceptance of the prize he must give a Nobel Lecture within the next six months. This can be a speech, a discourse, film or something else of his choosing.

Bob on the joys of the harmonica, anyone?

James McNair writes for Mojo magazine and The Independent.