Should Dylan Accept Nobel Prize?

Welcome back to From Insults to Respect. I hope you all are having a delightfully colorful autumn.

Dylan in his early years

Dylan in his early years

As most of you know, controversy has flared since the announcement that Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Some are heatedly arguing there are others more worthy of the prize. In this vein, a guy named Rob Delany tweeted:

“Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize for Literature? What’s next, Derek Jeter wins a Tony for his rice pilaf???”

martin-scorseseIn contrast, Director Martin Scorsese put out a statement saying he was “overjoyed” that Dylan was awarded the prize. He went on from here to say:

“Dylan’s poetry, his musical genius, has meant so much to me personally and to generations of people around the world. His work has impacted and shaped culture, and he has never stopped exploring and growing as an artist. The Nobel Committee has given Dylan a form of recognition that befits his role in our culture — in world culture.”

No doubt the Pulitzer Prize Committee members agree with Scorsese, they having awarded Dylan the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

Fueling the controversy is the fact that Dylan has yet to acknowledge that he is honored to have received the award. “One can say that it is impolite and arrogant,” said Per Wastberg, a member of the Swedish Academy.

Dylan presumably has recognized being awarded the Nobel award. According to an article in the Star Tribune, notification that the award had been bestowed to him was only briefly posted on his webpage before being taken down. What’s up with this?

The Star Tribune article informs us that:

alfred-nobelAlfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and was one of the original (to quote from one Dylan song) “Masters of war/You that build the big bombs” — i.e. he not only was a major producer of modern cannon, but also was one of the first modern armament producers. In addition, a premature obituary of Nobel, calling him a “merchant of death,” presumably inspired Nobel to turn philanthropist by creating the prizes.

 Dylan’s song “Masters of War,” has a verse that goes:
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 death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

The acceptance ceremony is scheduled for December 10th. Will Dylan show up? Should he show up?

My Opinion

Well, first of all, Dylan should be free to choose to do whatever he wants. He’s been doing pretty well without my advice all these years and, anyway, I think it’s unlikely he would give a good hoot what my opinion is on this matter. Moreover, I don’t like it when someone tells me what I should do, so applying the golden rule, I’ll not “should” him. I will, however, express an opinion about what I, personally, would like him to do.

If Dylan and I were together, I’d first ask him if he would mind if I let him know what I would like him to do. If he said no, I would respect this. If he said yes, here’s what I would say.

“Well, Bob, it seems to me that you are kind of like a guy who has found himself somehow perched on top of a narrow fence, struggling to keep his balance. If he falls on one side, he’d end up in the mucky manure of folks who think he would be an awful sellout for accepting the award. martin-luther-kingIf he ends up landing on the other side, he’d end up in the mucky manure of folks who think that he would be disrespectful of a bunch of fine folks, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Albert Einstein. Such folks were as passionate as anyone with regards to promoting peaceful ways to work out human problems and yet chose to accept the award.

“It seems to me, Bob, that I can spot a way down from that narrow fence; a way in which you can avoid much of the nasty muck. Climbing down off the side of the fence, with a little care and skill, I think I spy a small spot where the grass is still emerald green.

“What I have in mind, Bob, is taking advantage of this international stage moment to express why you are ambivalent about accepting the award. Next, mention that your song, “Masters of War,” helps to capture some of the feelings you personally feel. Then sing the song to the audience. A great gesture would be to donate the approximately $900,000 award to a worthy cause. You’d still be able to keep the 18-caret gold medal that also comes with the prize, or sell it. Two earlier Nobel winners have sold their metals, fetching $765,002 and $4.7 million in auctions.

Words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower

“I realize that the approach I’m suggesting would still result in many of those individuals that work for the military industrial complex spitting on your soul. And I also realize that most Americans with no direct connection to the military industrial complex genuinely believe, for many good reasons, that without a strong military, some warlike countries would be eager to take advantage of us. And I also realize that if you were to remain silent, there would be many who would cry out that you don’t have the courage of your convictions. So, yes, the road of an artist is always deeply challenging.”

Well, those are my thoughts for this week. Here’s hoping you will join us again real soon right back here at “From Insults To Respect.”

October 29, 2016 Postscript: The above blog was written yesterday, October 28, 2016. This morning I woke up to discover, to my delight, that Dylan has agreed to accept the Nobel Prize. This makes perfectly good sense to me. After all, there is absolutely no requirement that in accepting the award he proclaim he has any esteem for Alfred Nobel. He is at perfect liberty to esteem him, despise him, or have little interest in him. For those interested in the life of Mr. Nobel, there are many historical writings about this, and each individual is free to make his or her own judgment about the man. The group of people who did select Bob Dylan as worthy of the prize did not have to seek Mr. Nobel’s approval. It was this committee that chose Dylan, and I, personally, believe they made an excellent choice.


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.


Bob Dylan on Addiction
Bob Dylan on Friends

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. Yes he should accept and it is a honor and respect he deserves such an award.

    • Hi Judith Dennis,

      Thanks for chiming in on this. I very much agree with you.

  2. Dylan was the one hack of many that made it out of the village. Don’t much care whether he accepts it or not. List the backs he climbed over to get to his exalted position. He’s not worthy of any reward, and he was never even a half decent song writer. Because the simple-minded buy into his amercan hero narrative, doesn’t make it so.

    • Hi JSR,
      I read the NY Times article. The writer’s existential theory for Dylan’s non-response to the Nobel Awards Committee doesn’t quite hold up because he accepted several other big name rewards in the past, including the Pulitzer Prize, and now, just this morning I learned he has agreed to accept this Nobel Prize.

  3. Interesting dilemma indeed Dr. Rubin. You captured it well and paved the way to a solution that allows this cultural icon to retain both his dignity and the integrity of his message to the world intact. I believe he will do as much, as if he had of called to ask for your thoughts on the matter.

    Please keep us posted.

    • Thanks, Judy Gayton, for your kind words. As events unfold, by all means I’ll keep everyone informed.

      • We still don´t know if Dylan will come to Stockholm on dec 10. If he does I hope he will sing Masters of War and dedicate it to Alfred Nobel (Bofors Cannons etc.) or the Nobel Prize Group sponsor weapons manufacturer SAAB.

        • Hi Bo. Like you, I hope that Dylan does go to Stockholm to receive the award, and I think singing “Masters of War” would be a valuable thoughtful act. I don’t agree that Dylan should dedicate the song to any of the particular sponsors of the Nobel Prize Group such as the weapons manufacturer SAAB. It is my understanding that the committee that selects the prize winner does so completely independent of the separate organization called the Nobel Prize Foundation, which is a nonprofit group that takes contributions from a wide range of individuals and companies. The foundation states: These companies have no influence over or access to the nomination or selection procedures of the Nobel Prizes. Only after the public announcement of the Nobel Laureates, made by the Nobel Prize awarding institutions, can the companies further spread information and knowledge about each year’s Nobel Prizes.

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