And finally, from Series of Dreams, a Bob Dylan newsletter there is this item. In Oslo for an July appearence, Dylan was informed that a Norwegian-based committee has formally nominated him for the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature. As for myself, I am still analyzing the video tape of his acceptance speech for the Lifetime Achievement Grammy. One of the most amazing and puzzling two minutes I have ever seen, I still find it hard to believe that he just made it up, though it sure looks like he did.
As a long time near fanatical devotee of Bob Dylan, I was ready with my trusty VCR on the night of February 20, 1991 when he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual presentation of the Grammys. In the years since, I have played and replayed, over and over, the two minutes or so of Dylan's acceptance of the award and apparently impromptu remarks. I have forced my family to watch it. I have reviewed it with friends. I have revealed it to acquaintances. In fact I have studied this snippet of film more times than any other piece of video I own, excepting only the Zapruder film, and the last half hour of the HBO George Jones/Tammy Wynette special from the early eighties (the analysis of which I have found endlessly diverting). Jack Nicholson hosted the Dylan segment which began with a short film documenting Dylan's career. When that concluded, Dylan and band delivered a blistering, in-your-face version of one of his most rabid antiwar anthems, Masters of War (the Grammy show took place during the height of the Desert Storm conflict), performed in such a melodically altered state that only serious fans would be likely to recognize it. To this point, everything had been pretty predictable. Now let's go to the videotape:
Finishing the song Dylan puts down his guitar and walks to the front of the stage as the audience stands in ovation. A grinning Nicholson delivers a brief speech of presentation as Dylan stands beside him, moving restlessly, swaying from foot to foot, clasping and rubbing his hands, now smiling with bemusement, now looking mock serious. At last Nicholson hands him the award. Dylan takes it, waves slightly, and turns away, his back to the audience, apparently about to exit the stage. He starts off to his right, but Nicholson stops him and motions that he is supposed to exit in the other direction. Dylan turns around and begins to move that way. Passing the microphone again, he pauses and steps up to it, saying, "Thank you," in response to the continuing applause. Again he appears on the point of leaving the stage. Nicholson, along with two lovely women who have appeared to accompany the men from the stage, applauds with the audience and motions in the direction Dylan is supposed to move. Dylan, however, remains standing uncertainly before the mike as, behind him, Nicholson and the two lovely women laugh at his apparent indecision about what to do next. Then, seeing that Dylan is about to say something, they step away. "Well, uhmm...all right," Dylan mutters, the applause rapidly dying away as the audience strains to hear what he might say. He holds the award in both hands looking at it, swaying restlessly, adjusting his hat, appearing to read the plaque. "Yeah. Well. My daddy, he didn't leave me too much you know, he was a very simple man." He glances at the audience and back at the award. "He didn't leave me a lot, but what he told me was this. He did say, 'Son,' " stretching the word into suhhnnn, nervously gesturing with his hands, touching his chin, rubbing his nose, "he said.... Uhmmm...." And then there is a ...very...long...pause... as Dylan again studies the plaque, shaking his head slightly, the audience tittering over the unscripted moment. Dylan turns the award, studies it, looking at the blank back, seeming to abandon his train of thought, apparently almost lost on stage. Finally, he continues. "He said so many things you know." The audience erupts into laughter. Dylan steps away from the microphone, briefly tipping his hat, again apparently on the verge of leaving the stage at what seems a perfect moment, but then pauses, again changing his mind and steps back to the microphone. "But he did say....he did say...." And suddenly, nervously adjusting his hat, glancing between the plaque and the audience, Dylan begins to speak rapidly: "You know it is possible to become so defiled in this world that your own mother and father will abandon you. And if that happens, God will always believe in your own ability to mend your own ways. Thank you." Wheeling around he strides from the stage. In the brief space before the applause begins, scattered gasps are audible as the audience realizes that a lighthearted moment which began in confusion and matured into a moment of hilarity, has ended, in an almost inexpressible conversion of tone, only seconds later in a profound, nearly unfathomable solemnity, one knifing right to the secret aches and fears in all our hearts.
I'll leave it to you to analyze to the depth of your own concerns what happened that night in those moments. The words themselves and their objective meaning, the nuances of such words delivered by a father to a son, the reverberations inherent to such a message delivered on a national stage by the most personally private of individuals, the use of the word 'defile', the invocation of the deity, and so on.
Last modified: Saturday, 02-Nov-1996 21:20:15 EST