Tag Archives: Nobel Prize

Dancing with Speeches #42 Bob Dylan

Dylan was the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year – he used the occasion to give a 30 minute acceptance speech. Rolling Stone described the speech as equal parts riveting, confessional and controversial. On being named this year’s Nobel Prize winner for Literature, he will go down as a controversial choice for many and the most inspired choice in a generation for others. At 75 Dylan’s words ring as true today as when he first wrote some of his most iconic lines of poetry – the answer is still blowing in the wind and With God on Our Side could be played in every husting on the US election trail this year. His poetry in song have been the soundtrack to many of our lives and when he picked-up that electric guitar in Newport in 64 … well the rest is history.  And it will be fascinating to hear the speech he will make later this year in Stockholm. While we are waiting here is a speech a fan might make to introduce him.

 

On presenting Dylan with his 2015 MusiCares award Former President Carter said Dylan’s words about peace and human rights were more succinct and more memorable than any words a President could offer. But it wasn’t the Nobel Prize for Peace Dylan received this week, although there is many a draft resister who found courage in his songs to put down their sword and shield and not go and study war.  And there are all the musos who picked up an electric guitar and put their lyrics to music, gave new clothes and complexions to Dylans’ words  – the harmonies of Peter, Paul and Mary, the soulful sound of Baez rallying us to action through the ages. He didn’t get the Nobel prize for economics though many a R & B musician supplemented their livelihood on the back of Dylan covers.

Shakespeare didn’t write down his plays, others had to come by after him and gather up the pieces and stitch them together. I am putting Shakespeare and Dylan in the same sentence, because their words and contribution to the lexicon of our lives in the western world is extraordinary. We all use words and phrases that have their origins in the their poetry and prose.

When Dylan picked up his MusiCares award he had litanies of gratitude, instructions to remind us to look behind us to how we got to where we are and to look ahead to see what is on the horizon and tempting us to go forward.  He did a lot of thanking. Thanking those who saw something in us that others didn’t. Thanking those who borrowed our work, straightening out so others could access it. Thanking those who add to our own talents. Thanking those who give us a go and help other people catch up to where we are. Thanking those who see in us what we can’t see in ourselves. To these people let us all understand these are the ones who are the bedrock of our careers without which we don’t have one. Then there are the ones you love who take what you do and you are so honoured by their dynamics and courage and sheer brilliance that you can barely believe your good luck – for Dylan that was Pervis Staples and the Staple Singers, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash. Dylan says singing folk music gave him the code for everything that’s fair game, that belongs to everyone.  Who do you need to thank?  Who are the ones in your life’s work who give you respect and honour you by singing one of your tunes or breathing the same air as you and take a fragment of who you are and fuse it into something of their own without injuring the integrity of the your offering?  Today we thank Bob Dylan, a self confessed “song and dance man” who through his words has done what Alfred Nobel laid down in his will to bestow on a person who, in the literary field, had produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”.  Dylan is one such person, an ideal direction for more than a generation influenced by his words. Nobel defined literature as “not only belles-lettres, but also other writings which, by virtue of their form and style, possess literary value”. The literary value of Dylan’s work has stopped us in our tracks, caused us to think, given us courage, helped us to cry, held us in times of trouble, breathed new life into old causes – surely all the powers we want from literature!

Then add the sounds of the great American Song Book and the words are laced with struggle, resistance, survival and triumph. Listening to old gospel songs and hanging out with communities on the edges of big towns in the USA soon has sounds and phrases seeping through your pores. Ancient rhythms: the beat of the heart, beat of the drum, the skip you get in the excitement and ecstasy of praise, the slowing down of your breath as the lament needs a note to be held longer.

The connections are all there in the songs. It isn’t a big trip to make, to the rap of New Yorkers from a Simple Twist of Fate. Without verse after verse of rhyming punchlines punctuating the air with the familiar nasal elongated rise of tone at the end of a sentence to end the verse, how would rap have taken hold?

It is OK for songs to divide, this is all part of the discourse, the conversation that brings us to our next level and the test of time will be if their truth remains long after the last chord has been played.

That is the power of Dylan, like Shakespeare, our species will be singing his songs long into the future. The ferocity of truth can’t be disguised by harmonies and orchestration – which is why it doesn’t matter who covers Dylan – the lyrics stay the course – that is what truth does. It doesn’t matter how much you camouflage it, throw it in the spin cycle – truth will be steadfastly remain. Three chords and the truth – the essence of Dylan.

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Amandla! Mandela

Dear Hildegard, I want to share some memories with you about South Africa and Mandela. Hearing the news today of his death has reminded me of so many things ….

I remember coming into Cape Town and being so sea sick that I couldn’t get off the ship. I was 11.  I could see Table Mountain and I knew it was Africa and in another ten days or so we would be home in Australia.

I remember the day the Springboks played in Adelaide – it was my first year in High School and the match had to be abandoned.  Those protesters heralded the beginning of the sporting boycott of South Africa. Proud I lived in a city that began that act of solidarity.

I remember going to dinners, marches, putting up posters, organising prayer services, talking to friends, selling raffle tickets, singing songs of freedom, learning all the words of God Bless Africa to support the end of apartheid.

I remember meeting Leah Tutu in Adelaide and asking her how does she keep going when her husband was constantly facing death threats and always so close to trouble and tragedy. She told me – I dance, we dance.

I remember staying up all night to see Mandela released from prison and having the ABC satellite loose transmission just a few moments before it happened because Mandela’s release was delayed.

I remember taking the family to the city for a peace march to celebrate Mandela’s release. I did not want our children to miss the moment. I wanted to be a part of history.

I remember crying and dancing the day Mandela became President and hearing him say Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson).  I remember this being printed off in my office and carrying it around with me for years as a constant reminder to be courageous and in the light.

I remember being in Perth Airport and seeing a very tired and, I thought, inebriated, Kerry O’Brien heading off to South Africa to interview Mandela. I was on my way to Mozambique and would be passing through Johannesburg.

I remember being in Johannesburg and going to Alexandra and being shocked by the poverty on one side of the road and the wealth on the other. I remember the energy of the student and church activists who kept me company that day.

I remember searching for the new South African flag in the market in J’burg so I could bring it home to keep reminding me how a new nation was finally re-born and a flag no longer outlawed.

I remember driving Donald Woods to an event at Annesley College and the hall was packed to the rafters and he mainly wanted to talk to me about Australian cricket. The irony of the ordinary passions amidst the politics of sheer survival caused me to chuckle!

I remember feeling proud of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons, with former PM Malcolm Fraser making real and important contributions to bring about peace and to stand with the people of South Africa. I always felt this was one of the finest acts of the Commonwealth. It also rehabilitated Fraser for me as I had lost all respect for him back in 1975!

I remember being inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and seeing Tutu cry night after night in hearing the evidence. I was so inspired by this magnificent restorative justice experience.

I remember singing all the songs on Freedom is Coming over and over again until everyone in the house knew every word.

I remember getting a beautiful copy from the dearest of friends of Long Walk to Freedom – a coffee table version – chosen so all the photos could be seen and shared easily with the children.

I remember being in Glasgow and a South African delegation thanking me as an Australian for standing shoulder to shoulder with black South Africa to help end apartheid. I felt a fraud for the little I had done and humbled to receive their thanks – two of them had been imprisoned for their politics.  I remember seeing in the Glasgow Town Hall a thank you note from Mandela to the people of Scotland that same trip and it bore the date of my birthday.

I remember going to Mandela’s house 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando, Soweto the womb in which many of his earliest thoughts and plans were made.  The only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners have lived.

I remember going to the Hektor Pietersen Museum and being so inspired by the youthfulness of protest and the courage of school students.

I remember being in the Apartheid Museum and learning for the first time that I had seen more footage on my television on what had been going on in South Africa, than many of the South Africans themselves because of the censorship.  I remember the tablecloth on which the ideas and constitutional changes were etched.

I remember being on the Parliament House balustrade in Pretoria and buying stamps that commemorated Mandela’s Presidency and a few year’s later being in Cape Town and walking through the doors of the National Parliament and seeing the fruits of democracy on the walls and in the conversations.

I remember walking the labyrinth in Cape Town behind Tutu’s St Georges Cathedral and marking each step for the long walk South Africa had behind it as well as the one in front of it.

I remember listening to the former political prisoner at Robben Island tell the story of what it was like to be there and the University they created to support and keep learning together. Mandela taught his fellow prisoners.

I remember the District 6 Museum and being delighted with the storyteller and the generosity of the tales of hope and resilience as well as nonviolent resistance in the harshest and dehumanising of circumstances.

I remember sitting next to one of the great elders of the trade union movement at dinner and being so honoured to be in his company while presenting at a conference on democracy for Gaetung Province. How amazing it was to have this opportunity and he thanked me for all Australia had done to help end.

I remember in 2012 being sad to say goodbye once again to South Africa and wondering when I might be back. I am very grateful that one of my now adult children had a taste by coming with me on that trip. He was 5 at the rally when Mandela had been released.

I remember listening to Johnny Clegg at WOMADelaide and enjoying every single minute of his talk and his band. It was my WOMADelaide highlight that year.

I remember all the South Africans I have met in South Africa and around the world. I remember their kindness and patience with me. Their love of their country and that they will be mourning for Mandiba in their own ways and for their own reasons.

These and many more memories of my little thread of connection to the story of Mandela and his beautiful country have been flooding back.  I wept when I heard the news. I gave thanks for his life. I pray for the future of South Africa. I have always felt that while there was breath in his body, it was an insurance for the whole country to protect and to guide.  I pray that his spirit will inspire a new generation of activists who will understand that there can never be peace without justice.

I am ashamed that I came to learn more about racism from South Africa first before I came to know it closer to home in my own country and community. But I am grateful I was able to apply some of those lessons. The lesson of solidarity is what I learnt most from being a tiny part of the anti-apartheid movement.

It was the words of Bonhoeffer that added to my understanding of solidarity:

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists and the trade unionists, and I was neither so I did not speak out.  Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

And so this day I am in solidarity with all those who mourn Mandela’s death and celebrate his life.  I will do a dance to the Soweto Gospel choir, sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, ‎ unhaul the flag, look over my photos and books, send messages to friends in South Africa and say a prayer for his family and his country, and raise my hand with a fist – Amandla!

Sunset in Pilansberg

Sunset in Pilansberg