A Nobel Laureate, speechless?
That’s not supposed to happen.
During his year as a Nobel laureate, he didn’t write a new memoir or release an album of new songs. He didn’t scream at President Trump or even save a rain forest. (Those jobs await Madonna’s Nobel.) Instead, Dylan seemed trapped beneath an avalanche of unsolicited prestige. For decades, he’d been going about his business, writing songs and playing them, and then — boom! — he’s suddenly a big Nobel literary cheese. The times, they certainly a-changed.
Last year, whatever Dylan did, it couldn’t appease everybody. For example:
He recorded his third American songbook album, a three-disk set covering the likes of Irving Berlin and Frank Sinatra. The music website Pitchfork gave him a respectful 6.5 out of 10, saying, “there is something ridiculous about it.” What was ridiculous was the idea of a Nobel laureate singing “Stardust” in a voice that sounds like a shaken bucket of rocks. The world faced no such a dilemma from Doris Lessing.
He was accused of padding his mandatory Nobel lecture with lines about Moby Dick, cropped from an online study guide. (Read The Guardian’s headline: “It’s alright ma, I’m only cheating.”) It was fun, mocking a big academic fish for taking shortcuts. But what’s the problem? They’re called “crib notes” for a reason!
He got hacked. In December, somebody hijacked Dylan’s Twitter account and tweeted the fake rumor, “Rest in peace @britneyspears.” The evildoer added insult by including a weeping emoji. For a Nobel laureate to be pondered using emojis, it was like dating a second-tier Kardashian. Can anyone imagine past winners — Winston Churchill, for example — bumping up his speeches with little picture thingys?
He endorsed a London rock opera based on 20 of his songs. A New York Times review called it a “strange theatrical hybrid of soaring music and thudding dialogue.” Long ago, rousing rock musicals became the 401(k) retirement plan for aging pop stars, such as Green Day, Abba and Meatloaf. The literary world didn’t blink. But Dylan now occupies a club with John Steinbeck and William Faulkner. They don’t want another “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”
Next month, Dylan will release “Trouble No More,” a collection of recordings from the 1970s and ’80s. Whenever new Dylan tapes turn up, they’re immediately commercialized. But what about his spoken words? Last October, when Dylan broke his Nobel silence in an interview with The Guardian, he offhandedly rendered a poem that would do Homer and Sappho — or Jethro — proud:
I’d like to drive a racecar on the Indianapolis track. I’d like to kick a field goal in an NFL football game. I’d like to be able to hit a 100-mile-an-hour baseball. But you have to know your place.
Last October, Dylan wasn’t sure of his place. Now, with his Nobel year in the rearview, he’s done serving the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies. He can sit back and admire his trophies, or go chase new ones. How about a Heisman?