Bob Dylan turns 73 today.
On February 20, 1991, Dylan was handed a Grammy “Lifetime Achievement Award” (will they grant him a second one in a few years? the man is still working) by Jack Nicholson. The First Gulf War was underway and there was no threat of protest or off-message anti-war messages from the show business crowd attending. (That war went very very well, if you recall.) So Dylan and his band played a violent version of his song “Masters of War,” sadly unrecognizable from his unpunctuated singing—would that he had enunciated the lyrics, but Dylan does not do the obvious even when he does the obvious—and then he accepted the cheap plaque (in the clip it looks like something the Grammy people bought at a Kinko’s) and delivered a brief speech:
“Well, my daddy, he didn’t leave me much, you know he was a very simple man, but what he did tell me was this, he did say, son, he said.” (There was a long pause, nervous laughter from the crowd.) “He said so many things, you know? He say, you know it’s possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you and if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways.”
It took him less than a minute, even with his nervous hat fumbling and pauses, but Dylan had just delivered an Old Testament sermon from Psalms 27:10 about the disfigurement of a life spent enslaved to the material things to the bejeweled, genially war-applauding, Hollywood crowd.