The Bob Dylan Nobel: The Morning After

Firsthand from Sweden, what happened at the ceremony

David Gaines (l) connects with Patti Smith
David Gaines (l) connects with Patti Smith

Southwestern University professor David Gaines, a fan and scholar of Bob Dylan's work, spent the week in Stockholm to cover the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Dylan. Here's his account of the ceremony at which the award was presented on Dec. 10.

Yesterday it snowed for the first time all week and Bob Dylan, in absentia and through the American ambassador to Sweden, addressed the 1,300 guests at the Nobel Dinner as the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature. The culmination of a week of Nobel activities, the reading of the Swedish Academy's citations for all Laureates, the performance of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" (to the accompaniment of acoustic guitar and pedal steel) by Patti Smith, and the reading of Dylan's remarks were the major media events of the week. In fact, Nobel Day (which is always December 10 because that is the day benefactor Alfred Nobel was born) struck me as the Swedish equivalent of the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, a presidential inauguration, and Downton Abbey all rolled into one.

Do not mistake that mash-up as a knock on it all. I loved it because it was a celebration of genius, true interdisciplinary cross pollination (yes, scientists talk to one another and to artists), and civic pride. Patti Smith, who has played many venues and seems pretty unflappable, was clearly overwhelmed by the occasion. She had to stop during one stanza of "Hard Rain" and said, "Sorry, I'm so nervous. Can we take it one more time?" The Swedish Minister of Culture, a striking woman in a red dress, cried throughout the song. When Smith closed, the royals and the other 1,250 people looked toward her and applauded. My Swedish friends with whom I watched the broadcast (it is the most widely watched program in Sweden every year) told me, "We have never seen such applause before." (All news stories and front pages are leading with Patti today.) Norwegian singer Ane Brun delivered a beautiful acoustic version of Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" as one of the intermezzos. Dylan's full address can be found at and is worth reading. It has heart, humor, and humility.

Although he wasn't here in body this week, his spirit was everywhere. I was glad to witness it.

David Gaines is a professor of English at Southwestern University and the author of In Dylan Town: A Fan's Life. For more details regarding Gaines' trip to Sweden, visit his music-travel-memoir mash-up of a blog for Southwestern.

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