Bob Dylan and the Légion d’Honneur Award

Bob Dylan Legion d'honneurThis is exceedingly déjà-vu pour moi, but I can’t quite resist responding to a current news story related to Bob Dylan.

Dylan apparently has been in the running to receive France’s highest honor, the “Légion d’honneur,” but according to news outlet France 24 his nomination has run into some trouble due to the discovery by the leader of the relevant committee that Dylan has a history of “drug-taking” and “anti-war protesting.” Actually, for this story France 24 references what it describes as a French satirical newspaper named Le Canard Enchainé, so that gives one some reason to wonder about the veracity of the “controversy.”

In case it is a real controversy, however, it’s worth pointing out that perhaps a fair look at the record would indicate that Dylan likely doesn’t merit disqualification on either count. As far as drug-taking goes, no reasonable person would doubt that Bob Dylan has encountered and used drugs of one kind or another, especially in the swinging sixties, but the fact remains that he has never been arrested or charged, let alone convicted, for even the most trivial kind of drug possession. So although we may be quite certain he has done it, it remains hearsay, legally speaking. And further, he has never been in the habit of talking about drugs or promoting the idea of taking them.

Interestingly, (Sir) Paul McCartney has apparently already received the named award; he, by contrast, has drug infractions on his record, and is pretty much a public booster for marijuana and its related forms.

As for the anti-war protesting: while I’m not sure why this would even be a disqualification in and of itself, the article in question takes it as given that Dylan actually did a lot of that kind of thing.

Dylan was a pacifist icon and prominent campaigner against the Vietnam War; his protest song “Blowin’ in the Wind” was a constant feature of anti-war protests during the 1960s and 70s.

In a poem, Bob Dylan once wrote that “every question / if it’s a truthful question / can be answered by askin’ it.” I don’t know if this is what he had in mind, but there’s a couple of question to pose to the journalists at France 24:

When did Bob Dylan ever advocate pacifism?

When and where did Bob Dylan ever protest or campaign against the Vietnam War?

At times in the past yours truly would have written fairly elaborate responses to these kinds of mass-media, knee-jerk-journalism fallacies regarding Bob Dylan, but at this point it seems enough to just let the questions stand. I know that there are people out there who are capable of coming up with very dumb answers to them, but those people who think a little more deeply ought to be able to understand what’s actually going on here.

It continues to amaze that, despite everything, Dylan is still filed away with the same lazy and inaccurate shorthand as ever. And the truly salutary lesson to be drawn from this is how little there is that can be relied upon in what we read, and in how those in the news media report on things. In a case like this, they just open a drawer and pull out what they ran last time, which is the same thing they ran the time before that, and so on. In the words of another Dylan song, you are best advised to “trust yourself.”

Well, you’re on your own, you always were
In a land of wolves and thieves
Don’t put your hope in ungodly man
Or be a slave to what somebody else believes

I have no idea if Bob Dylan himself actually cares about this “Légion d’honneur” award; it is possible, but his mantelpiece is already groaning under so many plaques and medals that it’s difficult to imagine him coveting another, especially if it involves him having to show up in a tux and look happy. But to disqualify him should at least require a better reason than those given. Some might cite his participation in the 1987 film “Hearts of Fire.” For my part, I would suggest his failure to take a public stance with regard to the Loudness War (very much more his business, surely, than all of those other wars).

Let the committee take note.