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?

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