Acknowledging Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

Or, “Paying Heed to our Prophets”

In typical Dylan style, it took five days for the singer-songwriter to respond to the news that he’s been awarded 2016’s Nobel Prize for Literature – as of today, that mention was also scrubbed from his website, who knows if it’ll ever resurface?

It reminds me of a friend who refused the OBE because his father died in the Second World War, defending the ‘Empire’. It wasn’t belligerence, just a desire to have nothing to do with an Empire that oppressed so many and killed his father. Maybe Bob Dylan also has no desire to be honoured by what is in reality ‘the establishment’, when for so many years he’s been the anti-establishment troubadour? We’ll probably never know. Bob Dylan is an enigma, and don’t we just love him for it. A global icon who eschews the limelight! Now that is refreshing in an era of celebrity-worship.

The thing is, visionaries and seers work on another level altogether. It’s like their incredible imagination is out there roaming the cosmos, downloading universal truths into an accessible format for us mere mortals to ponder upon. George Orwell (one of the greatest writers never to win the Nobel Prize for Literature) set a precedent, but despite the fact the he wrote 1984 as a warning to humanity, we seem to have interpreted it as a handbook instead. Dylan, like Orwell before him also cast pearls before swine and was largely ignored. Take his incredible words in A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall as an example. The words deserve to be transcribed in full here, but this is a blog and readers’ attention can be short, so here is an abridged version, a few prescient lines that resonate with me particularly deeply at the moment:

I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in the front of a dozen dead oceans
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
I heard the raw of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard ten-thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.’

It’s sacrilege really to extract these few words from what is pure genius – so I urge you to google the whole thing, if you don’t already know it by heart. But look what he told us over fifty years ago: that the oceans are dying and that children would be made to fight wars, that sea-levels are rising but nobody’s listening to the warnings.

And he’s right. The executioner’s face is always well-hidden – I mean, do we really know who’s perpetrating climate change, that’s already responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people? And he did tell it from the mountain, and a hard rain is falling, flooding homes, cities, entire countries. And do we listen? Do we pay heed to our prophets? No.

So why should our prophets pay heed to us? In my opinion, Dylan’s keeping a dignified silence. Perhaps he is waiting for our deeds to speak louder than his words?

Something Bob Dylan has done over the years is quietly and unconditionally support the work of Artists Project Earth to raise awareness of climate change and global inequality, by collaborating on our Rhythms Del Mundo albums. A Hard Rain featured on 2010’s RDM Revival album, and the track I Shall Be Released is featured in our forthcoming album, Plastic Oceans, to be released early 2017.

Dylan is a man of many words and few words – but the words he chooses reverberate decades after they’ve been uttered. That alone makes him worthy of the Nobel Prize, whether he wants it or not.

Lorna Howarth is Advisor to Artist Project Earth, and founder of The Write Factor.


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