As with most things involving Bob Dylan, the publication of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech came out of the blue and minus much fanfare. It was uploaded to YouTube — with piano accompaniment! — and that’s pretty much it.
The musician, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” upended tradition last year when he coyly avoided the spotlight that most winners take for granted.
But he made a speech, one that Dylan recorded on Sunday in Los Angeles and published Monday morning, according to the 27-minute video upload.
“When I received the Nobel Prize for literature,” Dylan says in his opening remark, “I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it, and see where the connection was.”
Dylan then proceeds to do just that, admitting that, “most likely I will go in a roundabout way, but I hope what I say will be worthwhile and purposeful.”
What follows is an ode to his heroes and their recordings, including Buddy Holly, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and others. He cites as inspiration the many “work songs, Georgia sea-shanties, Appalachian ballads and cowboy songs” that came to define folk music in America.
He then honors three books — “Moby-Dick,” “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Odyssey” — by offering his extended thoughts on their themes and their import to his own work.
After focusing on Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” Dylan moves to Erich Maria Remarque’s wartime classic.
“‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is a horror story,” Dylan says. “This is a book where you lose your childhood, your faith in a meaningful world and your concern for individuals. You’re stuck in a nightmare, sucked up into a mysterious whirlpool of death and pain. You’re defending yourself from elimination.”
Dylan then moves to Homer’s “The Odyssey.”
“What does it all mean?” he wonders after exploring the epic poem’s themes, before answering his own question.
“If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means,” Dylan says. “I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs and I’m not going to worry about it, what it all means.”
He closes with the hope that people continue to listen to and perform powerful music, “in concert or on record, or however how people are listening to music these days.”
“I’ll return once again to Homer,” Dylan says in conclusion, “who says, ‘Sing in me, o muse, and through me tell the story.'”
Listen to the speech in its entirety above.