“Well, I’m right here,” Bob Dylan replied when told the Swedish Academy had been trying for three weeks to hear from him regarding the Nobel in Literature they had awarded him. Whew. I’m sure fans and committee members alike exhaled with relief. But what did it mean that he had waited so long to accept his prize? “I was speechless,” he claimed. Really? And what does that mean . . . I’m right here?
My study of Dylan while researching for my novel The Psalms of Israel Jones gives me a clue. In my novel, the world of my sixty-something rock legend has shrunk to the six feet surrounding a microphone, the back of his tour bus and the occasional night’s stay at a Day’s Inn. I doubt this is the case with Dylan—he at least haunts childhood homes of fellow rockers like Neil Young and John Lennon when he’s in their old neighborhoods—but the lens with which he views the world might’ve shrunk due to decades of fame, not to mention personal setbacks, from divorce to health issues.
I think Dylan’s a pretty hard-core introvert who wants to be left alone to doggedly complete the journey he began when he left his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota for New York in 1961. Maybe he fantasized the Nobel hoopla might just go away. (He still hasn’t said if he’ll attend the ceremony.) Maybe, like Israel Jones, Dylan just needs to do the one thing that gives him—and should give us—the greatest comfort: writing and performing aural poetry that few would deny has changed the world. Awards are . . . distractions?
“Of course [I’ll accept],” Dylan responded last Friday in a call to the academy, adding, “I appreciate the honor so much.”
I hope so. A lot of us would be different people without his work. “Songs are strange countries that you have to enter,” he said in Chronicles, Volume I. We need to enter them, too. Those strange countries turn out to be our lives.