When I passively heard news reports Bob Dylan had been voted into the “prestigious and elite” Academy of Arts and Letters, I was surprised, and immediately recalled famous Groucho Marx quote, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Bob Dylan is no hoity-toity academic — he’s a measured man of depth and magnitude. What was going on?
Finally finding a moment to do my due diligence, I, of course, discovered that Dylan wasn’t honestly voted into the academy as an actual, real member — he’s just an “honorary” member of the group in which he should never become a member — because they couldn’t decide “where he fit” in their legion to give him full membership:
The traditionally staid American Academy of Arts and Letters is both charmed and flummoxed by Bob Dylan. The academy announced Wednesday that it voted the musician into its ranks — its first rock musician ever. But he will be an honorary member: Not for the first time, people couldn’t figure out how to classify Dylan.
“Bob Dylan is a multi-talented artist whose work so thoroughly crosses several disciplines that it defies categorization,” executive director Virginia Dajani told the Associated Press.
What a bunch of cerebral hooey! Look, you either take Bob Dylan on as a full and righteous member of your silly academy, or you don’t. There’s no wiggle room for genius. Just because you can’t put Dylan in a box doesn’t mean he belongs in predefined context of your leisure.
If you know anything about Bob Dylan — and I seriously doubt those overstuffed minds have nary a clue — Bob Dylan is not an elitist. He believes in people. He sings for the human condition.
Bob Dylan is a man who means something to regular folk. Everybody belongs in a Bob Dylan world. He sings about ordinary life and makes humble people spectacular.
Bob Dylan is a Living Spirit who walks the earth; not a man stepping into a Dead Letters grave.
I really hope Bob doesn’t join those nincompoops who have no idea who he is or what he stands for or how he came to define an entire generation of peaceful protest. Because to become precisely what he is not goes against everything Bob Dylan ever sang about, or wrote down; and we know him through the only thing that matters — his Word and Music — and we will never believe he gave up his idealistic rancor just to finally fit into the mainstream, middling, middleminded of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
I never thought I’d read the words Academy of Arts and Letters and Bob Dylan in the same sentence, though he has written some of the finest compositions I have ever read and he is a master of every art he tackles.
As far as I can tell, Bob accepted the honorary membership — or it never would have been announced. Perhaps, after all, he did want to belong…
This reminds me of some of the “celebrities” that are awarded honorary degrees in the UK – it always seems to be that the instiutions need the name more than the name needs the degree.
Bill Cosy had a similar sort of “belonging” problem with academic degrees:
In the UK it would be more appropriate to have a Master of Charities as this is normally what is quoted as the reason for the award.
I’ve never been big on awards and honors — because they’re all false in the end and only really used for commercialized promotion of vested interests.
I’m all about the work enduring — the work matters — the body of work is the honor.
the award is “recognition” in the now rather than what is left behind
Perhaps it’s the circles in which I spin, but I always find it sad when I ask somehow how they’re doing, and I get a resume spewed back at me.
I want to say to them, “I appreciate you need to be defined by others, and you need their approval — but I want to know how you, The You, are doing…”
I couldn’t agree more that “everybody belongs in a Bob Dylan world.” His views of ordinary life are exactly what made him so great– you would think that such an “elite” Academy would want to steer very clear of people like that.
Love that, Emily! You’re right on target with your understanding of Dylan’s importance. He was the Anti-Mainstream when he started and then brought the mainstream to him and set the new standard of excellence. For him to need to be included now in such an academy is both confusing and disappointing.
I absolutely love the quote about how his work defies categorization. You don’t hear compliments and praise like that in today’s music or from the artists who create it either. Clearly a very talented man. It would be absolutely wonderful to hear someone say they want to grow up like him or he inspired to them.
That’s an excellent insight, Brielle. We need a whole new generation to take over the music scene again to add back the importance of lyric and melody.