In the wake of legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for his poetic music, in something of a surprise, President Barack Obama has joined the chorus of voices lauding Dylan, his “favourite poet,” as well as a “well-deserved Nobel.”
Throughout his presidency, Obama has repeatedly made his deep appreciation for the music icon known.
The president has, on numerous occasions, listed Dylan’s songs as among his all-time favourites, but one particular quote from Obama is an even more striking testament to Dylan’s greatness and singularity.
In 2010, after Dylan performed at the White House for the first time, Rolling Stone asked Obama about Dylan’s performance and his stoic, “sceptical” demeanour. Obama raved about the experience, but also revealed quite a bit about what it’s like to encounter the real Dylan. And in fact, he’s just like the Dylan you always imagined:
“Here’s what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you’d expect he would be. He wouldn’t come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.’ A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I’m sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little sceptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.”
There are few artists who can keep up their mystique even in front of the sitting president. Dylan is apparently one of them.
Then, in 2012, Obama awarded Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “the country’s highest civilian honour.” The president’s speech at the ceremony celebrated the musician in a grand manner.
“There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music,” Obama said of Dylan, adding that the singer-songwriter’s “unique gravel-y power” and artistic voice redefined “not just what music sounded like, but the message it carried and how it made people feel.”