Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize for literature back in October of last year, and after a lot of hesitancy and some weird combination of disinterest and humility, he finally picked up his award in March. That wasn’t the end of it, though, as all Nobel honorees are required to give a lecture in their field before they can receive the $900,000 prize that accompanies the Nobel. After several months of waiting, Dylan recorded his lecture this week and the Nobel Committee released it on YouTube for everyone to hear.
The 27-minute recording is a predictably interesting beast, and it seems to be largely based on Dylan trying to reckon with the fact that his songs are considered “literature.” Since the announcement came out that he had won, Dylan has given off the impression that he doesn’t think he deserves the award, but in this lecture he seems to actually change his mind, establishing various connections between his musical influences and a few famous literary works—Moby Dick, All Quiet On The Western Front, and The Odyssey—that were similarly influential to him as a young man.
However, he eventually determines that songs aren’t really the same thing as literature, because you’re not supposed to sit and study song lyrics. You’re supposed to appreciate them “the way they were intended,” which is “in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days.” He recognizes that songwriters are similar to poets and playwrights or whatever, but his basic point seems to be that you need to hear music in order to really get it, which it’s a whole different thing than literature.
You can hear Dylan’s lecture below.