Book 9 explores the through lines of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize–winning body of work and his continued commitment to live performance.
On October 13, 2016, news broke that the Swedish Academy had awarded Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan was only the twelfth American to win the Prize, joining Saul Bellow, Joseph Brodsky, Pearl Buck, T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Isaac Bashevis Singer, John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, and Eugene O’Neill. More importantly, however, he was the first-ever songwriter to win the prestigious award, which had to that point been given only to “traditional authors.”
Having just embarked upon another tour, Dylan didn’t respond to the news for a few days. He later explained that the “news about the Nobel Prize left me speechless.” Although he was unable to attend the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm that December, the US Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji spoke in his absence, and Patti Smith performed “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” with orchestral accompaniment. The following April, when Dylan’s tour passed through Sweden, Dylan met with the Academy for a private ceremony to accept his medal and diploma. In a statement from Academy secretary Sara Danius, she noted, “Quite a bit of time was spent looking closely at the gold medal, in particular the beautifully crafted back, an image of a young man sitting under a laurel tree who listens to the Muse.”
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese was the second film the director made about Dylan. Released on June 12, 2019, the Netflix film blurs the line between fact and fiction to tell a story of Dylan’s famed 1975 tour.
Opening on September 29, 2019, at the Modern Art Museum in Shanghai, China, Retrospectrum collected more than 250 pieces of artwork spanning the full breadth of Dylan’s work as a visual artist. Oil, acrylic, and watercolor paintings were displayed alongside ink, pastel, and charcoal drawings, which were in turn set off by Dylan’s ironwork sculptures. From the original works making up his earliest published drawings (from the 1973 book Writings and Drawings), to his Mondo Scripto (at that time his most recent work), the retrospective also featured some of Dylan’s most iconic artworks, including the Train Tracks of the Drawn Blank series and a monumental new version of Endless Highway from The Beaten Path series.
In early 2020, Dylan recorded songs for the album Rough and Rowdy Ways featuring his touring band including Bob Britt, Matt Chamberlain, Tony Garnier, Donnie Herron, and Charlie Sexton, with additional contributions from Fiona Apple, Blake Mills, Alan Pasqua, Tommy Rhodes, and Benmont Tench. From the tender “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” and rough-and-tumble blues of “Crossing the Rubicon,” to the poem-song of “Black Rider” and the dreamlike “Key West (Philosopher Pirate),” Rough and Rowdy Ways built upon his original work through Tempest, while incorporating the atmosphere and spontaneity of his excursions into the Great American Songbook.
Following the seismic stir of the album’s rollout, Rough and Rowdy Ways debuted at #1 on Billboard’s charts for Top Rock and Americana/Folk Albums. On the Billboard 200 chart—which encompasses all popular music regardless of genre—Rough and Rowdy Ways debuted at #2, making Dylan the first artist to have an album chart in the Top 40 in every decade since the 1960s.
On December 8, 2019, Dylan performed his final pre-pandemic show, and did not return to the stage again until the launch of his Rough and Rowdy Ways World Wide Tour on November 2, 2021, scheduled to run for three years.
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