The name of the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature has been released and it is … drum roll … American song writer and singer Bob Dylan. Many of his fans and admirers rightly celebrate this distinction, pointing out that his song lyrics captured the essence of the struggles and cultural dissonance of the 60’s, the 70’s and beyond. It is noteworthy that Dylan, the first American recipient for Literature since Toni Morrison in 1993, received the award for having created “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Others, however, are less certain that Dylan should have been selected. One naysayer, for example, expressed his feelings this way: “I’m a Dylan fan, but this is an ill conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.” One is left to wonder what that writer really thinks!
Whatever your position on naming Bob Dylan a Nobel Laureate, it would be entertaining to tune in to the awards ceremony. Scheduled for December 10, 2016, in Stockholm, Sweden, a viewer would likely be hard pressed to say who was more difficult to understand … the presenter speaking in Swedish, or Bob Dylan making his acceptance remarks. As Dylan aficionados know, he has taken to mumbling his way through concerts of late, a fact he readily admits!
Dylan, who resided in Woodstock, New York, in 1969, has a tangential connection to the famous music festival bearing the name of that village. As aging Hippies will recall, when Woodstock was deemed to be too small for that event and a second community refused to issue a permit, things did not look good for concert organizers. At the last minute, though, a dairy farmer named Max Yasgur stepped into the breach, offering his 600 acre farm in Bethel, New York, as the venue for those remarkable three days of peace, love and music.
But with Bob Dylan, a genuine music icon, living so close by, festival planners could not believe their good fortune. They extended several invitations for him to join the thirty-two other bands and performers at the festival but, to their dismay, he did not appear in person. For those at Woodstock, though, there is little doubt that he was there in spirit through his contemporaries and close associates including Joan Baez.
As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock, many veterans of that remarkable event (myself included) feel drawn back to Bethel, White Lake and Yasgur’s Farm. Though impractical, it would be nice to mingle with some of the other folks who were there in 1969 and to, perhaps, reminisce about those three days. But before we start packing our bags and heading for that meadow in upstate New York, it might be a good idea to listen to what Bob Dylan has to say about such a trip down memory lane. In his 1997 song Mississippi, Dylan says: “You can always come back, but you can’t come all the way back.”