Rockarchive celebrates Bob Dylan winning The Nobel Prize for Literature with an exclusive feature
Posted on 10th December 2016 by Jill Furmanovsky
Because Bob Dylan wasn't there in person, Patti Smith accepted the Nobel Prize for literature in Stockholm on his behalf last Saturday. So it seems timely to recount a similar event 16 years ago in Stockholm that he did attend – and so did I.
This was The Polar Music Prize in May 2000, which was awarded jointly to the great classical violinist, Isaac Stern, and Bob Dylan for their contribution to music. Highly prestigious it came with a cheque for 1 million Kroner to each winner. I arranged press accreditation for myself hoping to photograph Bob Dylan again – we had first become acquainted a couple of years earlier at the 1998 Glastonbury Festival.
A week or two before attending I took photographs of Brian Ferry in Dublin. By chance he was due to sing his version of ‘A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall’ at the award ceremony - Patti Smith performed her version this year - so I arranged to hang out there with his party.
Ferry’s musicians consisted of a guitarist, a keyboard player and, appropriately for a sexy chanteuse, four nubile young women playing stringed instruments. There was an afternoon rehearsal in the empty Concerte Halle. The first four seats in the front row were labeled, Issac Stern, The Queen, The King and Bob Dylan. Backstage a group of choral singers in national costume, complete with Viking hats and blond wigs, rehearsed scales. Ferry’s girls played pool or lay provocatively over the green baize table in shiny leather strides. I was praying for Bob to walk in, but he didn’t.
He appeared suddenly only minutes before the ceremony began and was ushered into his seat next to the King. I had a birds-eye view of the front row from the balcony behind the orchestra.
Never has a man looked more uncomfortable than Bob Dylan did sitting there among Sweden’s aristocracy in their finery. Small and frail next to the substantial figure of the King, he fiddled with his sunglasses. When the video screens showed footage of his life history he looked down at his hands. A camera was trained on him from the balcony throughout the one-hour TV special. Incredibly he managed to keep a straight face and clap in the right places when the Vikings performed an Abba medley.
I was standing in the wings when Isaac, Bob, and The King took to the stage for the presentation. As the audience rose to their feet clapping, I shot down the length of the front row and sat on the free seat vacated by Isaac. A very grand lady, whom I later realized must have been the Queen, smiled at me graciously as I cautiously took out my camera.
An official with Lord of The Rings facial hair was supposed hand the award to the King, who would then present it to Bob. Not realizing this, Bob took the award directly out of his hand. At which point the King snatched it back before presenting it to Bob officially. That produced much hilarity in the audience and an apologetic smile from Bob.
At the climax of the event, with flowers and awards in hand, Bob and Isaac stood together on the stage to be applauded. A few official photographers in dinner jackets were brought in. They crouched in front flashing furiously. The Queen nudged me in their direction. “Go on dear!” she seemed to be saying as I was propelled forward. Now I was only a couple of meters away from Bob. We looked at each other. His inscrutable geisha face was hard to read but I thought he looked slightly bemused as I mouthed ‘Hello’.
Isaac’s flowers were blocking his face. “Isaac, the flowers!” I shouted over the applause. He dropped them down for us photographers and Bob looked at him very tenderly. For a moment the mask fell away and a 'mensch' was revealed. They could have been father and son.
A few more shots and it was all over. Bob headed for the airport to fly to Helsinki which was the next gig on his lifetime tour.