Bob’s in the news again, Bob Dylan, that is. He is eventually going to collect his Prize money, having finally paid his debt to the Nobel Committee by penning his truly Dylanesque lecture – a duty he had to fulfil before they could give him the money. He deserves it.
You could say it is all about three books. These are the books which he says have been central in his life and his music: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Homer’s Odyssey.
Alexandra Schwartz in The New Yorker magazine touches the flavour of the lecture in her reflections on the man and his work in her piece in the magazine this week.
At the end of his lecture, Dylan describes the moment in the Odyssey when Odysseus visits Achilles in the underworld. Achilles tells him that trading a long life of peace for a short one of honor and glory was a mistake. He is dead for eternity; “if he could, he would choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on Earth rather than be what he is—a king in the land of the dead,” Dylan says. “That’s what songs are, too. Our songs are alive in the land of the living.” Dylan never needed to make that trade. He has had more lives than a cat, and all of them add up to one long life of enough honor and glory to sustain a small nation. One day, he, too, will go down under the ground. But his songs will stay forever alive, up here.
Scott M. Marshall, the author of the soon-to-be-published book, Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life, takes the eschatological theme a bit further.
As the lyric goes, may his song always be sung. It doesn’t appear that will ever not be the case, even long after he’s gone on — tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.
Marshall looks at the element of Faith in Dylan’s life and work and gives us an account of some short biographical anecdotes which tell their own story. This “song and dance man” is no ordinary song and dance man.
Miami, Florida, January 1974: A man in a hat in his early 30s pedals up on a 10-speed bike to a Jesus People rally. He wants to chat after the rally with Arthur Blessit, one of the speakers. Blessit, a man known for literally carrying a large cross around the world, is a Jesus freak if there ever was one. The man on the bike asks Blessit questions about his faith and Jesus. Their meeting lasts about 10 minutes, and is briefly cited by Rolling Stone magazine.
The man on the 10-speed bike is Bob Dylan, and he’s just returned to touring for the first time since 1966 — and happens to be in the middle of a wildly popular U.S. concert tour.
A few years prior, in autumn 1970, Dylan took in an Eric Clapton concert in New York and then found himself on a station wagon ride with Clapton and two old friends, Scott Ross and Al Aronowitz. Ross, married to former Ronettes singer Nedra Talley, had become a Christian since the two last met in 1965, and he shared his faith with Dylan after the singer inquired about it. Before the evening dissipated, Dylan stopped by his apartment to pick up and give Ross a copy of his then-current album, “New Morning.” Dylan referred Ross to its final song, “Father of Night,” a song that served up evidence that its composer, the utterly reluctant counter-cultural idol, had not forgotten there was a Creator.
The recording of his Nobel address: