I Hope Dylan Refuses His Nobel

Come you masters of war
You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

Last I heard Bob Dylan hadn’t yet been in touch with the Nobel committee about the Literature prize they have awarded him. The discussion about the award seems to be all about Dylan’s place in the pantheon of the written word. I hope Dylan is thinking about something else.

In 1963 when I was a high school sophomore he certainly made me think. Growing up in a Republican stronghold, in a town that was home to a Strategic Air Command base, I was thinking seriously about going to the Air Force Academy. Then a girl I was secretly infatuated with lent me The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The surging defiance and anger of Masters of War on that album turned me inside out. I have always been grateful.

What impressed me and millions of others about Dylan was his insight and his integrity. He wasn’t rebelling to rebel, he was running away from the idea that he was someone to follow. He was just helping us to open our eyes the way his eyes had been opened. And in 1963 what he was seeing was not simply the folly of Vietnam but the malign stupidity of war itself.

Now he is in line to accept an award endowed by the ill-gotten gains of one of the most egregious Masters of War in history. Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, didn’t stop with his invention. He turned Bofors, an iron producing company, into an armament manufacturer, and turned a huge profit for himself in doing so. An erroneous obituary in a French paper that was headlined, “The Merchant of Death is Dead,” gave him pause and he bequeathed the funds for the Nobel Prizes.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

While I hope Dylan harkens back to his own lyrics and mulls the irony of accepting an award endowed by the likes of Nobel, I certainly understand that he is human, that this accolade is something many a scrivener would kill for (hmm). But to me, and I think to many others, Dylan is not just any scrivener. He was the conscience of an age (though he hated that label) and his early work continues to be a balm for those of us sickened by the course of this country and the leadership the Boomers have coughed up. For us the sixties are not about hippie superficialities and we have Dylan to thank for that.

I won’t think any differently about Dylan should he accept the Nobel. Like Whitman before him he has the right to contradict himself. But wouldn’t it be cool for the Bob Dylan who took on the death machine to thumb his nose at the Nobel’s little medal and its embossed profile of a Master of War?