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Dylan Finally Delivers on Nobel Prize Lecture

The reclusive singer-songwriter muses on literature and music in characteristic style

smithsonian.com

When Bob Dylan ditched his acoustic guitar for an electric one in 1965, he sent shock waves through the music world. It’s been decades since that much-debated feat, but the star still knows how to surprise audiences. Last year, the musician electrified the world once more when he won a coveted Nobel Prize in Literature—and refused to collect the prize. It took Dylan months to collect his accolade….but until today, he hadn’t delivered the lecture needed to officially receive the prize money.

Now, reports the Associated Press, Dylan appears to have overcome his final layer of Nobel Prize shyness by delivering the prize lecture. Though the Swedish Academy confirms it has received the lecture, the AP reports that they have not acknowledged where it was given, to whom, or when. What they have done is provide the lecture itself: a rambling acknowledgment of Dylan’s many musical and literary influences. Dylan ruminates on the influence of Buddy Holly, whom he calls “everything I wasn't and wanted to be,” and praises artists like blues legend Lead Belly and Appalachian folk singers as sources of early musical inspiration.

But Dylan, who claimed during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that “Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, ‘Are my songs literature?’” doesn’t neglect literature itself during the lecture. He cites three books—Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Homer’s The Odyssey—as particularly influential, though he gives hat tips to Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels and A Tale of Two Cities, too.

Dylan meditates on the importance of Moby-Dick, a book that, in his words, “makes demands on you,” and cites its use of metaphor and legend as particularly influential. He cites All Quiet on the Western Front—a “horror story” of war—as the only war novel he ever read, and teases out its themes of generational alienation and the pointlessness of armed conflict. As for the Odyssey, “that long journey home,” Dylan finds everything from drug references to warnings about the dangers of going too far afield, within.

Ultimately, Dylan ties all of these themes together by drawing a distinction between his work and literature once more. Though he nods to literature’s influence, he also encourages listeners not to make too much of songs’ words—referring, presumably, to his own, infamously obtuse lyrics. 

With the speech, Dylan will collect over $900,000 in prize money and presumably move on from one of the weirder prize sagas in recent memory.

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