How Does It Feel

patti-smith-nobel-prize

This was so (SO) good. I’ve clipped most of her essay below but not all. Here are excerpts from Patti Smith’s How Does It Feel from the December 14, 2016 issue of The New Yorker:


…In September, I was approached to sing at the Nobel Prize ceremony, honoring the laureate for literature, who was then unknown. It would be a few days in Stockholm, in a beautiful hotel, overlooking the water—an honorable opportunity to shine, contemplate, and write. I chose one of my songs that I deemed appropriate to perform with the orchestra.

But when it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the prize and accepted, it seemed no longer fitting for me to sing my own song. I found myself in an unanticipated situation, and had conflicting emotions. In his absence, was I qualified for this task? Would this displease Bob Dylan, whom I would never desire to displease? But, having committed myself and weighing everything, I chose to sing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” a song I have loved since I was a teen-ager, and a favorite of my late husband.

From that moment, every spare moment was spent practicing it, making certain that I knew and could convey every line. Having my own blue-eyed son, I sang the words to myself, over and over, in the original key, with pleasure and resolve. I had it in my mind to sing the song exactly as it was written and as well as I was capable of doing. I bought a new suit, I trimmed my hair, and felt that I was ready.

On the morning of the Nobel ceremony, I awoke with some anxiety. It was pouring rain and continued to rain heavily…By the time I reached the concert hall, it was snowing. I had a perfect rehearsal with the orchestra. I had my own dressing room with a piano, and I was brought tea and warm soup. I was aware that people were looking forward to the performance. Everything was before me.

I thought of my mother, who bought me my first Dylan album when I was barely sixteen. She found it in the bargain bin at the five-and-dime and bought it with her tip money. “He looked like someone you’d like,” she told me. I played the record over and over, my favorite being “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” It occurred to me then that, although I did not live in the time of Arthur Rimbaud, I existed in the time of Bob Dylan. I also thought of my husband and remembered performing the song together, picturing his hands forming the chords.

And then suddenly it was time. The orchestra was arranged on the balcony overlooking the stage, where the King, the royal family, and the laureates were seated. I sat next to the conductor. The evening’s proceedings went as planned. As I sat there, I imagined laureates of the past walking toward the King to accept their medals. Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Albert Camus. Then Bob Dylan was announced as the Nobel Laureate in Literature, and I felt my heart pounding. After a moving speech dedicated to him was read, I heard my name spoken and I rose. As if in a fairy tale, I stood before the Swedish King and Queen and some of the great minds of the world, armed with a song in which every line encoded the experience and resilience of the poet who penned them.

The opening chords of the song were introduced, and I heard myself singing. The first verse was passable, a bit shaky, but I was certain I would settle. But instead I was struck with a plethora of emotions, avalanching with such intensity that I was unable to negotiate them. From the corner of my eye, I could see the the huge boom stand of the television camera, and all the dignitaries upon the stage and the people beyond. Unaccustomed to such an overwhelming case of nerves, I was unable to continue. I hadn’t forgotten the words that were now a part of me. I was simply unable to draw them out. [Read more…]

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

bob-dylan-nobel-prize-cartoon


For those who endorse awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature, the question might be: Why did the Swedish Academy wait so long? For those who oppose: A songwriter?

But there is never an expiration date on the acknowledgment of excellence, and Mr. Dylan is much more than a songwriter. One may quarrel that the award delays what appears to be the inevitable recognition by the academy of novelists Haruki Murakami and Philip Roth, among others, or that a composer for musical theater like Stephen Sondheim is the place to begin if songs are considered literature. But no one who knows Mr. Dylan’s work and its impact on his and subsequent generations of authors and composers can dispute its high quality.

To the point of whether the words to songs comprise literature: It is the rare lyric that can stand on its own without the rhythm the music provides. The irony of assessing Mr. Dylan’s words absent the accompaniment is that he changed popular music by discovering and then exploring, repeatedly and often magnificently, new ways to set distinctive narratives to melody and rhythm as in “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “Like a Rolling Stone.” There is no comparable body of work, regardless of standard of measurement, by any other artist of the rock era.

~ Jim Fusilli, excerpt from Yes, Bob Dylan Deserves the Nobel Prize


Notes:

I couldn’t get a job today

peter-higgs-book-chalkboard

Peter Higgs, 84, a British theoretical physicist, will be awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics today in Stockholm for his pioneering research in the 1960’s related to the Higgs Boson particle theory (“The God Particle”).

The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers following his groundbreaking work in 1964 which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass.

He doubts that a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today’s academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: “It’s difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964.”

Edinburgh university’s authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he “might get a Nobel prize – and if he doesn’t we can always get rid of him”.

Higgs said he became “an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises”. A message would go around the department saying: “Please give a list of your recent publications.” Higgs said: “I would send back a statement: ‘None.’”

He has never been tempted to buy a television, but was persuaded to watch The Big Bang Theory last year, and said he wasn’t impressed.

Read entire story in The Guardian: “Nobel Prize winner behind Higgs-Boson says he couldn’t get an academic job today


Image Credit

Small miseries

Rudyard Kipling, Illustration

A post by Amanda Patterson on Rudyard Kipling triggered a stream of thoughts this morning.  Kipling was born yesterday in 1865.  I couldn’t recall ever reading anything by Kipling but I’ve certainly heard of him.  (DK. Mr. Contemporary. Always looking forward.  Never much for history.  Not much for looking back. What possibly could I learn from a life 100+ years ago? PAST IS PAST.)

Kipling, “born in India, was sent to England to live with a foster family and receive a formal British education at the age of 6.  These were hard years for Kipling.  His Foster mother was a brutal woman, who quickly grew to despise her young foster son. She beat and bullied Kipling, who also struggled to fit in at school. Kipling’s solace came in books and stories. With few friends, he devoted himself to reading. By the age of 11, Kipling was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A visitor to his home saw his condition and immediately contacted his mother, who rushed back to England and rescued her son from the Holloways.”

Yet, here’s a man who survived this childhood and flourished.  He said:

Small miseries, like small debts, hit us in so many places, and meet us at so many turns and corners, that what they want in weight, they make up in number, and render it less hazardous to stand the fire of one cannon ball, than a volley composed of such a shower of bullets.

And said:

I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble.

And said:

This is a brief life, but in its brevity it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.

And a man, who produced this poem in 1895:

[Read more…]

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