Bob Dylan Before the Nobel: 12 Times He Publicly Accepted an Honor
Earlier this week, the Nobel Prize committee revealed that Bob Dylan will not be attending the annual ceremony in Sweden. "Due to pre-existing commitments, he is unable to travel to Stockholm in December," they said in a statement. "He underscored, once again, that he feels very honored indeed, wishing that he could receive the prize in person." There's no word what "pre-existing commitments" are preventing him from making the trip. His tour wraps up November 23rd, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and his public schedule is totally clear after that. It's surprising because Dylan has showed up to accept many lesser honors throughout his life. Here's a look back at 12 of them.
Tom Paine Award, 1963
Weeks after John F. Kennedy was gunned down by an assassin, the Emergency Civil Liberties Union presented Bob Dylan with the Tom Paine Award. This was the height of his protest-song phase and they expected a dutiful speech. That's not what they got. "I got to admit that the man who shot President Kennedy, Lee Oswald, I don't know exactly where – what he thought he was doing, but I got to admit honestly that I too – I saw some of myself in him," he said to gasps. "I don't think it would have gone – I don't think it could go that far. But I got to stand up and say I saw things that he felt, in me – not to go that far and shoot." Shortly afterward, he was forced to issue a statement making it clear that he didn't truly identify with Oswald.
Princeton University, 1970
Bob Dylan dropped out of the University of Minnesota after a single semester in 1959, but 11 years later he found himself at Princeton with his buddy David Crosby to accept an honorary degree. According to Crosby, Dylan got stoned on the drive over and nearly bailed after learning he'd have to wear a cap and gown. He ultimately compromised by putting on the gown, but leaving the cap off. The school was infested with cicadas that summer, and Dylan immortalized the crazy day in his 1970 tune "Day of the Locusts." "I put down my robe, picked up my diploma," he wrote. "Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive/Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota/Sure was glad to get out of there alive."
The Grammys, 1980
Unless you count his bit part in the Concert for Bangladesh album, Bob Dylan didn't actually win a Grammy until 1980 when he got a Best Male Rock Performance award for his evangelical anthem "Gotta Serve Somebody." A lesser person might have stayed home after getting snubbed for Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks and everything else he did during the previous 18 years, but Dylan showed up and even played the song on the broadcast.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1988
In 1982 Bob Dylan showed up when he was accepted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, but since there's no video of that online we're going to jump right to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame six years later. This was a huge night where the Beatles, Supremes, the Drifters and the Beach Boys also got in. Mike Love famously chewed out half the big names in rock that night, which Dylan hilariously referenced in his own speech. "I'd like to thank Little Richard, who is sitting over there," he said. "I don't think I would have started without Little Richard. … I want to thank Mike Love for not mentioning me."
The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 1991
The Gulf War had just begun when the Grammys gave Bob Dylan a Lifetime Achievement Award. Before playing a radically reworked "Masters of War," Dylan walked up to the podium after a gushing speech by Jack Nicholson. "Well, my daddy, he didn't leave me too much," said a fidgety Dylan. "He was a very simple man. He didn't leave me a lot, but he did tell me, he said, 'Son … it's possible to become so defiled in this world that even your own mother and father will abandon you. And if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your own ways. Thank you."
The Kennedy Center Honors, 1997
In 1997, Bob Dylan was featured at the Kennedy Center Honors alongside Lauren Bacall, Charlton Heston, Jessye Norman, and Edward Villella. Per tradition, he didn't actually speak or perform, but he did sit near Bill and Hillary Clinton and watch Bruce Springsteen perform "The Times They Are a-Changin.'" "When people's yearning for a more open and just society exploded, Bob Dylan had the courage to stand in that fire and he caught the sound of that explosion," Springsteen said. "This song remains as a beautiful call-to-arms. The echo of that explosion lives on in the struggle for social justice in America that continues so fiercely today."
The Grammys, 1998
It took him 36 years of continuously brilliant work, but in 1998 the Grammys finally gave Bob Dylan Album of the Year. This was the night Soy Bomb interrupted his performance of "Love Sick" with a bizarre dance routine, but Dylan didn't let that dampen his spirits when he accepted the award. Seven years after his weird Lifetime Achievement speech, he was a little more grounded as he thanked everyone involved in the record by name. "I just wanted to say that one time when I was 16 or 17 years old I went to see Buddy Holly play at the Duluth National Guard Armory," he said near the end. "I was three feet away from him and he looked at me and I just have some kind of feeling, I don't know how or why, but I know he was with us when we were making this record in some kind of way."
The Academy Awards, 2000
Dylan's hot streak continued in 2000 when he won a Best Original Song Oscar for "Things Have Changed" from the Wonder Boys soundtrack. He was on tour in Australia at the time, but despite the enormous time-zone difference he still played the song live via satellite and accepted the award later in the night. "Good God, this is amazing," he said with a big smile. "I wanna say hello to all my friends and family out there watching and the members of the Academy who were bold enough to give me an award for this song, obviously a song that doesn't try to pussyfoot around or turn a blind eye to human nature. God bless you all with peace, tranquility and goodwill." A weeks earlier, he went to the Golden Globes in person to accept an award for the same song.
The Polar Music Prize, 2000
He may not be willing to travel to Sweden for the Nobel Prize this year, but in 2000 he made room in his schedule to accept the Polar Music Prize in that same country from King Carl XVI Gustaf. He didn't have to do much besides stand onstage, listen to a speech and hold up a plaque and a bunch of flowers. The Nobel Prize insists you deliver a speech, which may be one reason he's opting not to go.
Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2012
The George W. Bush administration went eight years without giving Dylan an award or inviting him to the White House, but in 2010 he performed "Blowin' in the Wind" at a Civil Rights concert there. Two years later, Obama presented him with the Medal of Freedom. He never took off his sunglasses, but he did manage to raise his eyebrows when President Obama put the medal around his neck.
The Order of Légion d’Honneur, 2013
This tremendous honor is usually reserved for members of the French establishment, and many were enraged when an American rock singer with a long history of drug use received one. But the French held strong and Dylan showed up in November of 2013 to accept. "I am grateful and proud," he said. "That's all."
MusiCares Person of the Year, 2015
The annual MusiCares Person of the Year gala always falls on Grammy week when many of the biggest names in music are in Los Angeles. In 2015 Eddie Vedder, Jack White and Neil Young all honored Bob Dylan by covering his songs. Near the end of the night, Dylan walked up to the podium and gave an unforgettable 30-minute speech that nobody saw coming. He thanked early supporters like John Hammond and Artie Mogul, praised icons like Mavis Staples and Nina Simone, and then called out obscure country singer Tom T. Hall and his 1973 song "I Love." 'I'm not ever going to disparage another songwriter," he said. "I'm not going to do that. I'm not saying it's a bad song. I'm just saying it might be a little overcooked." Hall's wife died just weeks earlier, and he refused to give the press any sort of response.