Over the course of his illustrious career, Bob Dylan has appeared at the Grammys, the Golden Globes, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the MusiCares Person of the Year awards, the Kennedy Center Honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Critics’ Choice Awards.
But when it came time for him to accept perhaps the highest honor of all — the Nobel Prize — Dylan was a no-show.
He had “preexisting commitments.”
The elusive songwriter had for weeks dodged calls from the Swedish Academy informing him of the award, to the point that the Nobel committee’s chairman called him “impolite and arrogant.” When it finally reached him, Dylan still wouldn’t commit to attending the formal acceptance ceremony. Finally, a few weeks before the event, the Swedish Academy informed the public that Dylan wouldn’t be in attendance. He was busy.
Some wondered whether the unpredictable performer would make a surprise appearance. But come Saturday, there was no Dylan. Only a note.
“I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize,” it said.
Azita Raji, the U.S. ambassador to Sweden, read the heartfelt message from Dylan aloud.
“If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon,” Dylan said.
His note alluded to the question many asked when it was announced that he would receive the prize: Are Dylan’s songs literature? This was the first time a musician was awarded this prize. It was a bit of a risk for the committee — and probably why its members were all the more miffed that Dylan didn’t seem to care. But the musician explained in his letter that he needed “more than a few minutes to properly process it.” He has spent so much of his life pursuing his work “and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters,” he said, he never stopped to consider whether his songs are literature.
“So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer,” the letter concluded.
As the academy pointed out before the ceremony, Dylan is not the first to refuse to accept his award in person. Novelist Doris Lessing and playwright Elfriede Jelinek are among those who declined to attend the ceremony honoring their work.
But there is one requirement that the academy’s members expect Dylan to fulfill. As it reminded him publicly with a news release, the clock is ticking.
“We look forward to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Lecture, which he must give — it is the only requirement — within six months counting from December 10, 2016,” the release said.
Dylan has yet to announce whether he’ll comply.