Sure was glad to get out of there alive: Bob Dylan receives Medal of Freedom at White House [video added]

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There was more than a little bit of “Day of the Locusts” about the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House this afternoon, which I watched via C-Span. Bob Dylan was the last to be introduced, and also the last to receive the medal, which is odd, since otherwise they seemed to be following alphabetical order. Hmmm. Zimmerman? Or were they trying to create some drama regarding Bob? (Why would they do that?) He was the only recipient wearing shades, which he kept on throughout. He stayed pretty low-key, not even applauding other recipients as far as I could see. When standing beside President Obama and hearing the citation read out, he shifted restlessly from side to side. Quick handshake with the President afterwards but no real words exchanged, in contrast to how it went down with several other recipients. I did not observe Dylan smiling even once.

I somehow don’t think he was planning to hang around for dinner. Nevertheless, congratulations to Bob. His country has now honored him about as highly as it can, and that’s always better than a kick in the pants, regardless of how one might feel about the occupant of the Oval Office at the given time.

In about thirty days he kicks off a new tour in England. I suspect he’ll be considerably more comfortable on that stage, as always.

UPDATE: Video clip below.

The wearing of the sunglasses throughout an indoor ceremony seemed like a serious statement of aloofness, as was the absence of a simple smile (contrasted dramatically, I might add, with President Obama’s grinning). I guess I’d see it as Bob trying to keep himself from appearing overly friendly to the political aromas floating around. Others will make of it what they will.

9 Replies to “Sure was glad to get out of there alive: Bob Dylan receives Medal of Freedom at White House [video added]”

  1. Bob did it right. He couldn’t refuse such an award, but he didn’t have to bow down and be sucked into any Obama political narrative. He kept his cool.

  2. I think he was just wearing a disguise, to hide what he’s got left behind his eyes …

  3. I saw Bob clap in that flat-handed style of his, but I don’t remember who or what for, he reached over and shook Justice Stephen’s hand, other than that sat impassively tapping his foot. I liked that he was wearing his stage suit (with the buckles on the pockets. The ceremony seemed pretty flat except for the obvious affection Obama and Toni Morrison shared, and then Bob – the last person called, should have had some idea that he was supposed to get up and cross in front of the podium to the Prez, but not our Bard. “C’mon, Bob,” kind of shook him out of his trance, then it looked like he was going to stop behind the podium, and then – that great dance as the Prez stood behind with a half-grin and didn’t seem to fully grasp whatever Bob was up to, and neither did I. Finally, a get me outta here handshake. It was all pretty mundane until Bob brought in the surreal. Was he tripping? I thought his behavior was bizarre even for him – my wife thought he was composing a new song. I certainly didn’t read any implied or actual criticism of the Prez or his policies. “Day of the Locust” passed through my mind as well.

  4. Addendum: Bob has always been grounded in his accomplishments, even comparing himself to a song and dance man, so I wonder if he was trying to figure out what he was doing in the company of people who had wiped out smallpox, say – or were bloodied in the civil rights struggle.

  5. I like Bob’s choice of sunglasses, cool aviator shades (military issue?), rather than some sort of hipster wraparound sunglasses.

  6. Watching Bob during this ceremony, I thought of that (awful IMHO) film “I’m Not There.” Just the title, because everything about Dylan seemed to be saying “I’m not here!” He is quite grown up and knows its rude to wear sunglasses at an event like this. He did not wear them at the Kennedy Center honors as I recall. He was purposefully closing himself off. And there could be no pictures taken of him smiling with President Obama because he never smiled. Only he could say why he acted this way. But he’s never liked being anyone’s puppet!

  7. Dear Sean: I found your reaction and the reaction of other readers to the Dylan Medal of Freedom appearance to be fun and interesting. The question is (perhaps) was he uncomfortable or were he uncomfortable – or were we ALL uncomfortable? The dark glasses were rude? mysterious? funny? different than everyone else? I am waiting for someone to write a book on his Medal of Freedom appearance and maybe they will get to interview Bobby on just what he was up to. The short proceedings were rather stiff as the President eluded to. First Obama giving his personal reaction to each winner, than an off-stage unembodied (oh oh my computer says that is not a word!) voice gave their creds, bonafides, or as we say in Yiddish, “yiches” and it was kind of hard to know when to applaud. When I slightly knew him around 2000 years ago, he was a nervous fellow, with a shaking leg, uncomfortable as a rule, able to laugh at others and himself as well. Maybe he thinks Obama is a Master of War or more accurately a fumbler at war. I was hoping he would sing something, anything, but I hope he did go to the luncheon and enjoy it. Shalom, Cantor Bob

  8. @Cantor Bob: I like the idea of writing a book solely on Dylan’s appearance at the Medal of Freedom ceremony. Don’t put it past the Dylan-book-writing-community. The fact that people (and that obviously includes me) have given such attention to his demeanor is definitely amusing and bizarre, but par for the course. And the thing of it is: I do think Dylan acted strangely, even by his standards, and surely meant it to be noticed to some degree, for whatever reason — and I’ve already insinuated my speculations.And I have to agree with Maureen above that Dylan by his behavior prevented any “happy photos” being taken of him with the President. Was that the point? Was his eye on history? He definitely doesn’t like being used and is perhaps hypersensitive to that concept.

    But this will be my last word. (Until the book, movie, etc.)

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