Bob Dylan to get Presidential Medal of Freedom

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This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

Famed artists who sang ‘don’t follow leaders’ will accept the highest civilian honor from President Obama, the leader of the free world

"Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters" - Bob Dylan 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'

The US White House announced that singer songwriter, writer, and actor Bob Dylan will receive the the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

To followers of the iconic leader of baby boomer counter culture, the award has some irony. But then we were all younger then, we’re older than that now.

“One of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century, Dylan released his first album in 1962.  Known for his rich and poetic lyrics, his work had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades. ”

“He has won 11 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award.  He was named a  Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Art et des Lettres and has received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation.  Dylan was awarded the 2009 National Medal of Arts.  He has written more than 600 songs, and his songs have been recorded more than 3,000 times by other artists. He continues recording and touring around the world today.” The White House

Music video copyright Sony Music, music Bob Dylan – no ownership is claimed.

The White House left out Dylan’s Tom Paine Award. And his Academy Award from the song from ‘Things Have Changed.” Dylan is so proud of the Oscar, or a facsimile,  is placed high on stage left for his concerts.

Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Obama said, “These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation.  They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place.  I look forward to recognizing them with this award.”

The Presidential Freedom Award is being given this year to 18 recipients who have distinguished themselves in civilian live. The US Medal of Honor is award to “members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.” The White House

Bob Dylan and politics

       “I grow old … I grow old …  
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” (T.S. Elliot) ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’

Age has a way of tempering radical youthful rebellion. Dylan was the icon of our coming-of-age, the unpredictable poet, singer, rock musician who could sum up everything in a few pithy lines like “Don’t follow leaders” – of course we didn’t want to follow leaders – they were our parents and our grandparents.

However, Dylan delivered a jaundiced view of politics with ‘Political World’ from the ‘Oh Mercy‘ album.

“We live in a political world
Love don’t have any place
We’re living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don’t have a face”  Words and music copyright Bob Dylan

The other half of that song is “Watch your parkin’ meters” and for our generation the meter has been running a long time.  Now Dylan and his audience are the grandparents. We have grandchildren and perhaps soon great-grandchildren. Dylan has long ago shucked off the restrictions of teen rebellion.

He likes awards, and so would we if we got one. He’s like us – married twice, divorced, struggling with aging at nearly 71. OK, he’s a multi-millionaire so he’s not like all of us but we still share a bond of kinship.

Bob Dylan at the White House in 2010 with President and First Lady Obama (Official White House Photos by Pete Souza)

When the President calls up for a concert, Dylan shows up and sober not like his 1963 Tom Paine Award where he was drunk and obnoxious to the Civil Rights old-timers or doing his best impression of it.

Dylan phoned in his Academy Award thank you speech from Australia in 2000 for the Best Song ‘Things Have Changed’ from the movie ‘Wonder Boys.’

Dylan is dedicated to the Never Ending Tour, now into it’s third decade of almost non-stop performances around the world which generally puts fans ahead of everything, including politics.

Dylan took heat recently for performing in China during which his critics said he pulled protest songs from the set-list on demand from the Chinese Communist Party. To those scurrilous charges Dylan wrote  “As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There’s no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous 3 months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play.”

I hope he goes to The White House for the ceremony. “The awards will be presented at the White House in late spring” says The White House.

“Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now” from ‘My Back Pages’   “Don’t follow leaders Watch the parkin’ meters” from ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ words and music by Bob Dylan.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

Selected Bob Dylan discography CD MP3 Vinyl
Selected Bob Dylan discography CD MP3 Vinyl
  Contains a 2nd DVD disk with 4 videos including 'Things Have Changed'  


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