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Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

Bob Dylan finally delivered his Nobel Prize lecture in the form of a video (you can also listen to it on Soundcloud). Over the course of just 27 minutes, he talks about his influences, both musical and literary, and muses on the differences and similarities between music and literature. Listening to the speech, instead of just reading the transcript, is well-worth your time, if only to experience Dylan’s lyrical delivery while exalting Buddy Holly or explaining Moby Dick.

If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved — the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs — songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great — sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed.

He was powerful and electrifying and had a commanding presence. I was only six feet away. He was mesmerizing. I watched his face, his hands, the way he tapped his foot, his big black glasses, the eyes behind the glasses, the way he held his guitar, the way he stood, his neat suit. Everything about him. He looked older than twenty-two. Something about him seemed permanent, and he filled me with conviction. Then, out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something. Something I didn’t know what. And it gave me the chills.

I arrived late to Bob Dylan and I still haven’t investigated much of his music (relatively speaking), but listening to him talk about his musical and literary influences bleeding all over each other makes me want to go on a Dylan bender and create some shit. (thx, david)

Update: There’s evidence that Dylan based part of his Nobel speech on the SparkNotes study guide for Moby Dick.

Theft in the name of art is an ancient tradition, and Dylan has been a magpie since the 1960s. He has also frequently been open about his borrowings. In 2001, he even released an album titled “Love and Theft,” the quotation marks seeming to imply that the album title was itself taken from Eric Lott’s acclaimed history of racial appropriation, Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class.