Nobel committee can just keep knock, knock, knockin’ on Dylan’s door

Nobel committee can just keep knock, knock, knockin’ on Dylan’s door


norman lebrecht

October 23, 2016

Per Wastberg, a member of the Swedish Academy that bestowed the literature prize on Bob Dylan, has said his failure to respond to the honour was disrespectful. The committee don’t even know if he will attend the awards.

‘One can say that it is impolite and arrogant. He is who he is,’ Wastberg told Dagens Nyheter in Stockholm.

Or you could look at it the other way. The Academy chose Dylan to capitalise on his celebrity after losing public profile with a string of obscure winners.

Dylan has refused to play their game. He doesn’t need their money and he doesn’t want to share his fame.

His reticence commands respect.

bob dylan

photo (c) Don Hunstein/Lebrecht Music&Arts


  • erich says:

    Rubbish. It’s extremely bad manners. Saying thank you costs nothing. If he doesn’t want it, he should say so and many far more deserving candidates should be reconsidered.

    • Clint says:

      Maybe he is ill. Maybe he just doesn’t want to. Whatever the reason, it’s none of our business. Calling your prize winner impolite and arrogant is a wholly inadequate response at this point. I agree, they pandered and now they have egg on their face.

    • V.Lind says:

      Agreed. His reticence is just bad manners. I find it hard to believe that, if he is ill, there is nobody in his domicile to answer the phone. Anyway, the night the award was announced he played a concert somewhere and never mentioned it.

      Yes, he’s a mega-star, but this is being offered to honour him. Batting it away with cold disdain and arrant rudeness just ensures that nobody from outside the sacred precincts of “literature” — which is where the award properly belongs — will ever be chosen again. Any discussion of the literary merit of Sondheim and his ilk? Forget it.

      The Nobel Committee made an imaginative leap from the confined parameters of the recognised literature. As Erich suggests, what would it have cost Dylan to behave like a decent human being. He would have been within his rights to decline the award. As it is, I think it would be a drag to see him at the awards.

    • Sue says:

      For somebody who has spent his entire career sticking to ‘the man’, why would anybody expect Dylan to respect ‘the man’?

      • flipthefrog says:

        He stopped sticking it to the man decades ago. Since then he’s done commercials for Victoria’s Secret, Apple, Cadillac, Pepsi – not exactly counter culture. And he personally accepted a Grammy last year

  • S Curran says:

    Trophies are for horses and dogs, as someone once said. Good for him.

  • Stordulf says:

    “Or you could look at it the other way. The Academy chose Dylan to capitalise on his celebrity after losing public profile with a string of obscure winners.”

    This is of course pure cr*p. Unlike this blog, the Nobel Prize is not about gossip, celebrity and fame, has never been and will never be. Get a grip.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Of course the Nobel – in two of its disciplines – is about gossip, celebrity and fame. Look at recent winners of the peace prize. Look further at some of the petty exclusions from the Literature Prize. Get real.

      • Stordulf says:

        Can’t be compared.

        Peace prize and litterature prize have two different jurys who have nothing do to with each other: Peace in Oslo in litterature in Stockholm. Oslo jury has made occasional weird decisions (Obama the worst) but for the litterature? Of course some authors will always be bypassed, but this is the name of the game. Feel free to list celebrity authors with limited talent who have received the litterature prize.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Dear Stordulf,
      I agree with you that the Nobel Prize in Literature is not about gossip, celebrity, and fame (which seems to be quite right about the Peace prize). Most winners in the latest years were quite obscure, without any international fame or celebrity status. The Prize is all about to have the right political view, the right skin color, the right genitals, and come from the right geographical area, all according to a kind of quotation dictated by the most recent trends in the “culture wars”. The prize to Bob Dylan was a clear mistake – the Swedish Academy took a huge risk in the field of, let us say, metaliterature, and did not realize that a pop star gets more to his/her ego by being “impolite” and more “arrogant” than the Academy members themselves.

  • Schnitzel von Krum says:

    I love Leonard Cohen’s comment: “It’s like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain”. As Dan Cairns says in The Times, read that again. And again.

  • Assimilate This says:

    Perhaps Dylan read J. Scahill’s book on Barrack Hussein Obozo, the proud winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize:

    “Obama has codified assassination as a central official component of American foreign policy,” Scahill said. “This is a global assassination program that is authorized and run under what amounts to a parallel legal system … where the president and his advisers serve as the judge, jury and executioner of people across the globe”

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    He accepted an award at the white house so he accepts awards. He must be trying to make sure that “Nobel” doesn’t attach itself to the Dylan brand, for his benefit.

    • Sue says:

      I expect he just thinks the Nobel judging panel has an ontological problem, in view of their ‘prize’ to Obama for..doing nothing. Dylan may even be insulted!!

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Sorry but his reticence does not command respect. I never understood why I’m supposed to bow down before Bob Dylan. Or before the Nobel committee. Or before any Nobel winner. Henry Kissinger? I’m supposed to honor and respect him? A lot of the winners they anointed for literature wrote books that are unreadable. Maybe Thomas Mann was the last one who deserved it.

    • Flip the Frog says:

      Absolutely! Hesse, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus, Steinbeck, Becket, Solzhenitsyn, Bellow, Garcia Marquez – all of whom won after Mann got his award – are just undeserving and unreadable

      • V.Lind says:

        Among MANY others. Neruda is the huge “jump-to-mind” name for me, though there are a very great number I had read with pleasure (T.S. Eliot, Nadine Gordimer,, J,M. Coetzee) or seen performed — including Pirandello, O’Neill, Sartre and Pinter — to some I had heard of but not yet read, of whom Pahmuk remains the best of the recent “finds.”

        The Nobel is of course infamous for the number of writers it chose who have long since dropped from blessed memory, and for the list of others who, for one reason or another were overlooked (most famously Graham Greene). But with a few exceptions, some based on the writers totally passing from sight and the rest a factor of my own lack of interest in pursuing certain avenues of literature, there are very few names on the list whom I had not read prior to their naming. Granted, I had a very wide-ranging literary education and a continuing appetite for literature. And I have read some of the less well-known winners since their naming, out of curiosity and with mixed responses.

        The post-Mann list suggests to me that the Nobel Committee has shown a great deal of scope in its choices. It is peopled by judges who are variously familiar with literatures of all people throughout the world and which has made an effort not to stick to the canons WE tend to be most familiar with. One would expect to see a few more African writers from neither the North or RSA to feature in coming lists, and a few more Caribbean; one would hope they will find Australia and Canada to have produced more than one great writer each, and to take another look at the US. in the not-too-distant future. But I had not encountered any Turkish writers till they named Pahmuk, and for that I am grateful and respectful.

        Dylan was a creative choice and it looks set to bite them on the nether regions for their trouble. The honour obtains; the money — which presumably means nothing to him but would make a difference to so many writers — ought to be redirected to some writers’ trust or similar cause. If he hasn’t the manners to answer his phone, they can be forgiven for losing his address.

  • Marco van de Klundert says:

    Very true Norman. Apart from that I cannot be more disgusted by the arrogance of the Nobel Comittee. Who is the impolite one here? Tims they are a changing.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    It is a bit odd, to give an award to someone who never wanted it and then expect them to come to you to pick it up.

    Most arts awards are negotiated in advance to make sure the honoree will show up.