By Abby Zimet / Common Dreams
At a Stockholm ceremony this weekend, rocker and longtime colleague Patti Smith accepted Bob Dylan’s Nobel in Literature by offering up to the glittering audience a searing, timely rendition of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Evidently rattled by the grand proceedings, Smith faltered on the second stanza, put her hands to her face and apologized to the audience – murmuring “I’m so nervous” in a lovely human moment – before gathering her strength and delivering a scorching, powerhouse performance.
Smith’s appearance in lieu of Dylan capped months of sometimes clamorous debate about whether the blue-eyed son’s decades of ineffable poetry are or are not literature – and, later, if his delay in responding and his failure to appear was or was not arrogance. The uproar was best laid to rest by one Committee member who serenely noted, “He is who he is.”
While Dylan had told the Committee he couldn’t attend, he did send a notably Dylanesque letter of thanks. Assuring them he was honored and “most definitely with you in spirit,” he expressed astonishment he had thus joined the ranks of “giants of literature.” “From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway,” he wrote. “That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.”
With a slyly elliptical nod to the debate about his worthiness, he noted that he has long been so too focused on writing the “songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do” that, perhaps much like Shakespeare, “Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, ‘Are my songs literature?’ So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.” All in all, not dark yet.
Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall