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CMU Beef Of The Week #328: Bob Dylan v Nobel Prize

By | Published on Friday 21 October 2016

Bob Dylan

Once upon a time, there was a man called Alfred. Alfred was really good at science, especially if it involved blowing things up. But one day he realised that he’d become very rich from blowing things up, like rocks and buildings and people, and that made Alfred very sad.

“I am very sad”, said Alfred. “Blowing up rocks and buildings and people is not as much fun as I thought it would be. I will give all my money away to people who have done things that are much more fun, and maybe less killy”.

So Alfred sent out his helpers across the land and far away, looking for people who had done nice things, so he could give them prizes and throw them big parties. People got prizes for being nice, helping out, doing good science experiments and writing very interesting stories. Later there was a prize for Economic Sciences too, but that prize was frankly bullshit and should not be mentioned ever again.

Every year for a very, very, very long time nice people got nice prizes and had big parties paid for by all the dirty money that Alfred had earned in his evil lifetime. And forever he was remembered as being the nice man who liked nice things. That was nice, because nice things are nice, especially if you give people those nice things as a way of saying sorry for being naughty.

Then one day, all the clever people in charge of the now very well known award for being good at stories decided that they should give a prize to a man called Bob. Bob had written lots and lots of stories in his long, long life. Almost too many to count. And lots of people said that he was very good at it. But a lot of people also said that Bob should not get the big prize for being good at stories, simply because Bob sang those stories in a nasal voice, instead of writing them down in a book like a proper story person.

Other people said that it didn’t matter that Bob turned his stories into songs and sang them in a style that had increasingly seemed like a parody of himself, because the stories were still really, really good and made lots of people feel very happy in their tummies. Anyway, it had been decided now that Bob was definitely going to get himself the story award, so there really was no point arguing about all this.

So the prize people started getting ready to throw a big party for Bob. They put up streamers, and made cakes and jelly and brownies, and sorted out a minor administrative issue when the deposit on the hall borrowed for the party didn’t go through, and then they blew up balloons, and hired a mobile DJ, and made up party bags, and got into a slightly tedious email exchange when it turned out that the hall had now been double booked because of the previous payment issue, but they still found time to buy new party clothes and send out party invitations.

They sensibly sent the first party invitation to Bob himself, because the party was, after all, being thrown for the benefit of Bob, to show him how much everyone loved his very good stories. But Bob did not write back. That was OK though. Bob was very busy singing his songs that were actually very good stories. He had big story-singing concerts to think about. He’d probably get around to replying once those were finished. Maybe he would even use one of those concerts to say that he would definitely be coming to the party.

But Bob did not do that. Bob didn’t even mention the party or the prize or anything at all at those concerts. He just sang his story songs and went home. But that was fine. Bob didn’t like to talk much when he wasn’t singing his songs, everyone knew that. And he hadn’t had time to write a song about winning a prize and having a party yet. Yeah, that was probably the problem.

Or maybe the invitation had got lost and Bob didn’t even realise that he’d won a prize or that there was going to be a party for him. Oh, how sad! It would be terrible if there was a party for Bob and Bob didn’t even know about it. So, just to be certain, the prize people sent another invitation. And another. And another. But Bob still did not reply.

“Right now we are doing nothing”, Sara, one of the top prize people, told Ben and Alexandra from the New York Times after they got worried about Bob not showing up for his party. “I have called and sent emails to his closest collaborator and received very friendly replies. For now, that is certainly enough”.

But Bob still said nothing. Some people got temporally excited when the prize was mentioned on his website, but it turned out that website was managed by his story song label, and not Bob himself, and it was on a press release about a new book of his stories, so was really just a bit of marketing and not any formal kind of RSVP. Which made sense. After all, Bob was not a computer man. Or a marketing man. Bob just liked to sit at home writing really good stories. And the next day they took down the mention of the prize anyway.

“I think he will show up”, Sara told Hannah from the Guardian, who was just as worried as Ben and Alexandra. “If he doesn’t want to come, he won’t come. It will be a big party in any case and the honour belongs to him”.

Yes, said everyone. Bob will have the prize whatever he decides to do. That will always be his for all eternity. Maybe Bob just doesn’t like parties. Did anyone think to ask him first if he actually likes parties and jelly and cake and balloons and streamers?

Anyway, it’s starting to seem like, if Bob did turn up to the party he’d be a bit of a bloody misery guts and spoil it for everyone anyway. He might write very good stories, but he can be a right grump. Thinking about it, maybe it would just be better if he stayed at home and we all told him what a nice time we had afterwards.

“Oh Bob, we had such a lovely time”, we would all say. “We had jelly and cake, and there were balloons and streamers, and the minor administrative issues about venue arrangements were not much of a problem at all in the end, although some people did turn up expecting a different party to be happening, but, really, what can you do in that situation?”

And Bob would sit silently.

“Oh Bob”, we’d say. “We laughed and danced all night. No, we didn’t play any of your records, because we thought that would bring the mood down a bit, although we did play the Red Hot Chili Peppers version of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, which was really a lot of fun and showed just how good you are at writing very good stories”.

And Bob would just sit silently.

“Oh Bob, we love the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob”, we’d say. “Don’t you? We think they write stories almost as good as yours. Next year we might give the prize to them. I bet they’d show up to the fucking party. And they could sing some of those songs that seemed like fun back in the olden days, but in hindsight are just mind-blowingly sexist and make us feel embarrassed that we used to play them in our cars to our mums while she drove us to the shops”.

And Bob would just sit silently, or maybe blinking, or something like that, because you can’t just sit staring all the time, it is very bad for your eyes.

“Oh Bob”, we’d say. “Even with the incredible misogyny that runs through his lyrics, it’s undeniable that Anthony Keidis is a great poet. A great poet like you, Bob. Just like you. He’s kind of like the next generation version of you, isn’t he, Bob? He’s very good at stories just like you are very good at stories. And he sings them in a way that’s sort of like not actually singing too. Just like you, Bob. Just like you”.

And Bob would smile.

“Heeey”, he’d say. “I forgot to saaay… that there’s no waaay… that I could take any prize that hadn’t also been given to the guy who wrote ‘Give It Awaaaay'”.

“Oh Bob”, we’d say. “Bob, Bob, Bob. You are so very good at stories”.

And we’d all live happily every after.