Polar Music Prize



I feel sort of bad for the poor king of Sweden. In 2000 Bob Dylan was awarded the Polar Music Prize (with Isaac Stern), and he flew to Stockholm to receive it in mid-May. He was clearly not in a good mood. He looked terribly uncomfortable and he skipped the dinner where he was supposed to perform and flew to Helsinki, because he had a tour date the next evening.

The Polar Music Prize, I just learned, was founded in 1992 and funded by ABBA money. So that’s something. Conceived as a sort of musical Nobel, although given to two people every year, they have honoured an extremely eclectic group of performers and composers, beginning with the likes of Paul McCartney and Witold Lutaslawski and more recently Youssou N’Dour and Kaija Saariaho. Dylan received the prize in its ninth year, after artists who he had strongly influenced (Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell). It doesn’t seem like he cared one iota.

With three YouTube clips we can reconstruct most of the ceremony as it pertains to Dylan. In the first, Princess Christina basically botches the task of reading prepared remarks off of a piece of paper – she calls Dylan a “songer” early on and it never really gets any better than that. When the time comes to give Dylan his plaque (what an awful prize, by the way) – I wouldn’t hang that in my home – they essentially fumble the handover. You can watch all of that here:

The whole thing falls apart with this second video. Here Bryan Ferry does a version of “Falling In Love Again” followed by “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. This is the worst version of that song I have ever heard:

The whole thing is just a disaster. Ferry’s “ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha hard” is probably the nadir (though the outfits on the violin players don’t help), but the whole thing almost made me hate this song. It is really dreadfully bad. The only thing notable about it is that it produces this reaction from Dylan:

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Poor Bryan Ferry. I can only hope that he couldn’t see Dylan from the stage. I can’t even imagine what it might be like to be singing in honour of someone like Bob Dylan at a televised event and to have him look at me like that. Traumatizing, I’m sure.

Better is this version of “What Good Am I?” by Louise Hoffsten. This is a perfectly nice, perfectly safe version of an underrated Dylan song:

Anyway, the whole evening seems like it was a bit of a farce. You bring in Bob Dylan, he takes your plaque (and the cheque), glares at everyone, and then he splits before dinner. I’d have been bummed. It’s not easy being king.

2 thoughts on “Polar Music Prize

  1. Rusty

    It can’t be easy to pull off that “I don’t do showbiz” thing when you’re in showbiz. Literary people get to be J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon, but when your metier is public performance but you won’t embrace the “do anything to make ’em love ya” ideology, what do you do? Blow off the king of Sweden entirely? Some people make it a point never to show up for awards, but obviously that’s not Dylan.

    Maybe Dylan has a deal with himself that as recompense for doing things he doesn’t really want to do, he gets to behave however he feels like behaving at the moment. (On brief reflection I think that may be total projection on my part.)

    And what’s with the plaque? Something called the “Polar Music Prize” needs to be a fabulous modernist crystal objet.

  2. charleshatfield

    Holy cats, I didn’t wanna believe you, cuz I really dig the Ferry/Roxy cover of “Hard Rain,” but you are so right: here, awful.

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