Presidential Medal of Freedom



As we near the end of this project, the pace of awards has also picked up. Bob Dylan regularly receives lifetime achievement awards now – from the Pulitzer to the Polaris Music Prize – and he never seems to be all that impressed to be there. 2012 is no exception. Here’s Dylan, receiving his nation’s highest civilian honour directly from the president, and he fidgets through it like he needs to go have a smoke (maybe he did).
The Medal of Freedom is given for “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”. The list of musicians who have won it is actually quite long (Loretta Lynn last year, Stevie Wonder this year, for example). I watched the entire half hour long ceremony (below) and it wasn’t very interesting. President Obama came out, made a couple of jokes, and then spoke about each of the recipients in turn. The others include novelist and Nobel winner Toni Morrison, astronaut and senator John Glenn, and activists Gordon Hirabayashi (who protested Japanese internment in WW2) and Dolores Huerta (United Farm Workers). There is a moment that I found a bit odd. When William Foege got his award I was struck by the disaparity: Foege was one of the people most responsible for eradicating smallpox. Bob Dylan wrote some really great songs. Part of me thinks that even Dylan was feeling a bit out of place because of that.
There’s not a lot to say here. Obama starts to talk about Dylan at 5:15 of the video below, and he sings his praises in all the ways that you would expect of a ceremony like this one. Obama comes off likeable (more likeable than Dylan, who wears his sunglasses the entire time). This is the second Dylan/Obama meeting, and Obama always seems much more into it than Dylan does. It humanizes Obama, but it makes Dylan come off as a bit of a jerk. Dylan actually receives his medal beginning at 30:50. As I say, fidgety and not super-impressed to be there.
And that’s that! Then they all went and had dinner. I wonder what Dylan and Madeleine Albright talked about.
Edited to add this from Dylan’s 2012 Rolling Stone interview:
MG: Receiving the Medal of Freedom had to be a bit of a thrill.

BD: Oh, of course it’s a thrill! I mean, who wouldn’t want to get a letter from the White House? And the kind of people they were putting me in the category with was just amazing. People like John Glenn and Madeleine Albright, Toni Morrison and Pat Summitt, John Doer, William Foege and some others, too. These people who have done incredible things and have outstanding achievements. Pat Summitt alone has won more basketball games with her teams than any NCAA coach. John Glenn, we all know what he did. And Toni Morrison is as good as it gets. I loved spending time with them. What’s the alternative? Hanging around with hedge-fund hucksters or Hollywood gigolos? You know what I mean?

Brother Printer Ad


It has now because my habit to begin each new week in the LongAndWastedYear by looking at the new advertising that has been created through the licensing of Bob Dylan music. Let’s not have an exception, this is a good one.

In 2012 Bob Dylan let Brother printers advertise a new line of quieter printers through an electronic symphonic performance of his classic work, “The Times They Are a-Changin'”. Over on Vimeo there is a little write-up about this clip from Chris Cairns, one of the people who put this together for Brother. He notes that the MIDI system will allow this to play other songs as well, or even to perform music live. I’m not sure if that ever came to pass, but what they’ve done here is actually extremely clever. Indeed, so clever is it that I’ve now wasted a whole bunch of time watching the other videos on the website of IsThisGood? I liked “Ghost Writer” the best, but everything over there is worth checking out – glad to have come across these guys who blend technology and art in interesting ways.

So, good ad here. I think you could possibly object to it on ideological grounds if you don’t think a generational song like “Times” should be used to sell quiet printers (I have no idea if they are actually quiet, by the way). If you believe, however, that a song like “Times” should be the source of inspiration for cool art – even if that art is used to sell quiet printers – then the above ad is for you.

Joe Cocker


I haven’t written a great deal about singers who have covered Bob Dylan on this blog, but the news today of Joe Cocker’s passing makes me want to note that he was one of the best in this genre. His best known cover is certainly his 1969 version of “Just Like a Woman”, which was the last song on side one of Cocker’s debut album: With a Little Help From My Friends (the same album ended side two with a cover of “I Shall Be Released”). I’ve put that up top here.

Grooveshark has actually had someone compile a lovely little collection of nine Dylan covers by Cocker – including the unlikely “Catfish”! I’ll be listening to this play list today and thinking about the late, great Joe Cocker. Rest in peace.