Thursday 22 August 2019

Prize-guy Bob's never-ending story

Playing Dublin next year, Bob Dylan is past caring what the world - or the Nobel Prize committee - think of him

Christmas gift: Bob Dylan is coming to Dublin next year
Christmas gift: Bob Dylan is coming to Dublin next year
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Not bah humbug. Irish promoter Peter Aiken gave me an early Christmas present: Bob Dylan is coming to Dublin next year - a long-awaited show on May 11 at the 3Arena.

Like a child awaiting Santa's arrival down the chimney on Christmas Eve night, I am already counting the days, until the man Salman Rushdie called "the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition," appears in Dublin and - hopefully - gives the crowd classics like The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, With God on Our Side, Masters of War, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall and Tangled Up In Blue. He once described the weight of his most celebrated songs as "like carrying a package of heavy rotting meat".

Dylan's longevity - 76 years of age come May 24 next year - must have the wise man of Hibbing, Minnesota waxing philosophical late into the night, wondering how Leonard Cohen, Prince and David Bowie have been called to the great bandstand in the skies this year while Mr Dylan's never-ending tour seems to continue to be just that - never ending.

Dylan must at this stage of his long life be wondering whether all those evangelical Christian albums he released in his Born Again period - Saved (1979), Slow Train Coming (1980), Shot Of Love (1981) - have stood him in good stead with the Big Guy with the fluffy beard upstairs. In such good stead, in fact, that the Big Guy has decided to keep him down here on earth longer than the aforesaid Mr Bowie, Mr Cohen and Mr Prince. Bob certainly sucked up to God goodo...

"By His grace I have been touched, by His word I have been healed, by His hand I've been delivered, by His spirit I've been sealed," Bob sang on the title track of Saved.

It doesn't particularly matter in 2016 whether Dylan is still tangled up in the bible. His devotion to something (of whatever faith or creed) is still there as before, but expressed differently. Not that it is anyone's business but his.

I'm sure Dylan at this stage is sick of being on trial. He's been judged since he committed the blasphemy of going electric at Newport in 1965. He has been judged since that heckler in Manchester in 1966 dubbed him "Judas!" So you can only imagine perhaps how he feels about the hoo-ha over him winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, but I'm sure he is far more concerned about how he will follow-up, Fallen Angels - his 37th studio album, and a sequel to 2015's Shadows in the Night - than what Irvine Welsh thinks of him.

Jon Wiener in The New York Times asked Dylan luminary Greil Marcus about him winning the Nobel Prize - "do we have to argue about whether what Dylan writes is 'literature'? Do we have to say Homer sang his epics, or that Virgil was a lyricist?"

In his response Marcus nailed the whole issue, eloquently: "I've always thought the question of whether Bob Dylan was a poet was a waste of time. And I always thought the campaign to win him the Nobel Prize didn't have much to do with Bob at all. Campaigning for Nobel prizes is anything but unknown. A whole cohort of people worked very hard to get Toni Morrison the Nobel Prize.

"There's nothing odd about that. People have been promoting Bob for years as someone who must win the Nobel Prize - and it always struck me that those were people wanting validation for their own admiration and obsession with Dylan. They wanted the Nobel committee to certify them and their seriousness. I always thought that was pretty ridiculous. He doesn't need it." Not that Dylan cares either way.

In his 2004 autobiography of sorts, Chronicles:Volume One he wrote what sounded like an epitaph: ''Some people seem to fade away but then when they are truly gone, it's like they didn't fade away at all."

And yet as he sang on 2015 album Tempest: "I ain't dead yet. My bell still rings, I keep my fingers crossed like the early Roman kings."

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