Despite it all, I still think it’s the best award acceptance speech I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding.
Bob Dylan received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammy’s on February 20, 1991. I remember that my university was on spring break, and that I was at the home of parents for the week (possibly working for my father to cover a vacationing employee?) and that we watched this show, or at least the Dylan portion, together. I never watch the Grammys at all – there’s barely an award that I care less about – so I must have been specifically watching to see Dylan. It was a memorable night. You can watch the entire segment here, transferred from a VHS tape that pops a couple of times:
A few thoughts. First: Jack Nicholson is awesome. That’s a great tuxedo, and he gives a great speech. While I doubt that he wrote it, whomever did deserves all kinds of credit. The paradox part is as good a description of Dylan as you could imagine for an award show, and will be demonstrated just a few minutes down the line. Nicholson is just the best at these sorts of things. Compare his performance here to Bruce Springsteen’s at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for example. Total pro.
Second: We certainly have moved forward in the editing of retrospective career videos. These are a staple of these shows, but this one is really quite bad. It leaps around, mixing sound and images from different sources, jumping out of historical order and just generally making a hash of it. This is one of the worst examples of the tribute genre that I’ve ever seen.
Third: “Masters of War”. As a song selection, it was incredible. Not long after having played the song for the cadets at West Point, here he is playing it for a national audience in the middle of Operation Desert Storm. I don’t recall anyone else on that show voicing much or any anti-war sentiment, so this was a thrilling selection for me.
Fourth: “Masters of War”. I remember my father asking “What the hell was that?”. Ok, Dylan’s strident anti-war message was perhaps a bit lost by the fact that he mumbled a lot of the words, and the band was pretty terrible. This was a loose, almost aimless version of the song that has been pilloried over the years. Rewatching it now, it wasn’t as bad as I recalled. That said, my tolerance level for mumbled Dylan is way up because I’ve been listening to a lot of bootlegs. I’m here to tell you: it wasn’t that bad. Still, another great example of Dylan on a national or international stage (like LiveAid) failing to live up to the legend that is Bob Dylan.
Fifth: The speech. I like it, partly because I dislike the Grammys, so anyone who moreorless craps on them while receiving their highest honour is alright in my book. Here’s the speech:
Thank You … well … alright … yeah, well, my daddy he didn’t leave me too much … you know he was a very simple man and he didn’t leave me a lot but what he told me was this … what he did say was … son … he said uh …. (long pause) … he said so many things ya know ….. he said you know it’s possible to become so defiled in this world that your own mother and father will abandon you, and if that happen God will always believe in your own ability to mend your ways. Thank you.
When he finally gets right down to it, his statement on defilement and faith in God seems very significant, if a bit paradoxical. I recall that I used to quote this a lot in the early-1990s, just to be annoying.
And that’s it.
Dylan’s performance as not well received at all – another one of the endless numbers of nails in his coffin. On that week’s Saturday Night Live, Dana Carvey absolutely nailed him – the costume, the twitching, the nasal whine. You can watch that here (WordPress doesn’t want to embed it for some reason).
So, another memorable miss.