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NPR Arts & Life

Bob Dylan To Skip Nobel Prize Ceremony In Stockholm

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

More than half a century ago, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature turned it down. The French philosopher novelist and dramatist Jean-Paul Sartre said he didn't believe in honors. In 1964, that was a big deal.

But in those days, snubbing authority was becoming more common. That year, Bob Dylan released "The Times They Are a-Changin'," an anthem against authority.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN")

BOB DYLAN: Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don't criticize what you can't understand. Your sons and daughters are beyond your command. Your old road...

SIEGEL: As someone who played so many Dylan records back then and the years to come, I find Bob Dylan's response to winning this year's Nobel Prize for Literature more cryptic than the lyrics to "Like A Rolling Stone." Dylan accepted the prize after some delay, but then he made it known that he won't make it to Stockholm for the December 10 ceremony when the prize is actually given because of other commitments.

David Gaines is the author of "In Dylan's Town: A Fan's Life" and professor of English at Southwestern University. Welcome to the program.

DAVID GAINES: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: How do you understand Dylan's sending his regrets to the Swedes?

GAINES: Well, it's puzzling for sure. I'd take him at his word from yesterday's statement that he is indeed very honored, and he was wishing that he could receive the prize in person. I don't think there are health concerns. People have asked me about that. He seems to be in fine form on the road on his Never Ending tour.

SIEGEL: Does he have any big bookings that week?

GAINES: He does not have big bookings that week. I think that part of what might be going on is that a press conference on December 6, a lecture on December 7, an awards ceremony on December 10 and then a two- or three-hour dinner that night is not where his main passions are right now.

SIEGEL: You know, I was thinking, though; back in 1997, he was one of the artists who received a Kennedy Center Honor. He went in black tie. He sat up in the president's box. He was honored. He doesn't have a lifelong aversion to receiving awards in that case.

GAINES: No, he doesn't. And more recently in 2012, he did receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he was there in not Ray-Bans but aviator shades and black tie. But he did look uncomfortable with it. And I really think that he would rather be playing music or writing or painting or, as you now know he's now doing, also welding.

SIEGEL: This isn't like turning down an invitation to receive an honorary degree from a for-profit online university somewhere in the country. This is the Nobel Prize for Literature. I mean I think a lot of us feel whatever your misgivings are, whatever your - this is the kind of thing that you find time for, no?

GAINES: Yes, I would hope, actually. I'm disappointed, but I don't think it's over yet. I believe that he is the gift that keeps on giving. And there are more surprises yet ahead. And like so many other things in his career, we can agree to discuss and, as he said in "Tangled Up In Blue," see it from a different point of view.

SIEGEL: And for now it's "Go Away From My Window" I guess he's saying as well.

GAINES: (Laughter) Yeah, I fear so. But I have my favorite two theories. One is that he will show up in Stockholm for a brief pass through in December. That's a very, very long shot. But I also think he might be home writing that second volume of "Chronicles," or he might be ice fishing in Minnesota. Or he might be in Tangiers, as one of his lines goes. His personal life to me is just that. It's personal, and I, you know - I just trust that he's well. And I gather he is from the people I talk to.

SIEGEL: Professor Gaines, thanks for talking with us.

GAINES: Thank you so much, Robert.

SIEGEL: David Gaines - Dylan-ologist (ph) and English professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.