Six months after Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature at a ceremony he did not attend, the songwriter has fulfilled the award’s criteria by delivering a lecture on the topic to the Swedish Academy.
Recorded June 4th in Los Angeles, Dylan’s lecture finds the rock legend discussing both his musical influences like Leadbelly and Buddy Holly alongside literary works that informed his songwriting, including Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and Homer’s The Odyssey.
“The themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental,” Dylan says during the 30-minute lecture.
Dylan then summarizes those classic stories and how folk music often cited their themes and motifs.
“The Odyssey is a great book whose themes have worked its way into the ballads of a lot of songwriters: ‘Homeward Bound,’ ‘Green, Green Grass of Home,’ ‘Home on the Range,’ and my songs as well,” Dylan said.
“The Odyssey is a strange, adventurous tale of a grown man trying to get home after fighting in a war. He’s on that long journey home, and it’s filled with traps and pitfalls. He’s cursed to wander … He’s a travelin’ man, but he’s making a lot of stops,” a nod to the Ricky Nelson single.
When the Swedish Academy initially announced that Dylan was the Nobel Prize recipient, they faced some backlash for including a songwriter among previous winners like Samuel Beckett, Pablo Neruda and Toni Morrison. However, as Dylan explained in his lecture, the songwriter, the poet, the playwright and the storyteller are all similar.
“Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read,” Dylan said.
“The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, ‘Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.'”
While Dylan did not attend the Nobel ceremony and banquet in Stockholm in December, he did pen an acceptance speech that was read by United States Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji. In April, when Dylan’s European tour reached Sweden, he officially received his Nobel Prize medal and diploma.
By providing a lecture on the subject of literature, Dylan fulfilled all the requisites in order to receive the $900,000 award that accompanies the Nobel Prize.