Why did Bob Dylan look so strained during the Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House Tuesday? Perhaps because his musical insurgency was being memorialized.
President Obama awarded Bob Dylan the coveted Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday. Twelve other deserving Americans got the medals, too – as we wrote yesterday, US presidents can give them to anyone they want. But we’re focusing on Dylan today because he seems to have attracted the most attention of the awardees – and because there’s something about his prize we believe has been overlooked.
No, it’s not the sunglasses he wore to the ceremony. Lots of folks have commented on those. Nor is it his overall demeanor. We’ll agree he seemed uncomfortable, like a boy forced to wear a suit and stand up in front of strangers, if that boy were over 70 years old and had written more immortal songs than anyone alive in the US today.
It’s this: Bob Dylan is the first rock and roll star to win the Medal of Freedom. Ever. As far as we can tell.
We admit we’re creating some arbitrary definitions here so that we can make this statement. First, is Mr. Dylan a rocker, per se? He started as a folkie, went electric, and now has settled into a kind of bard-like phrase, where he reinterprets old blues tunes and Confederate poems and things like that. What he really is, is a musical magpie.
“There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music,” said Mr. Obama, when hanging the medal around Dylan’s neck.
Anyway, Rolling Stone magazine called Dylan a “rock and roll pioneer” in their story on the award. That’s good enough for us. Even if it’s a publication whose name came from a Dylan song.