The White House has announced that Bob Dylan soon will be receiving the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He will be joined by fellow recipients Toni Morrison, John Glenn, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
I’m skeptical of such honors — often they seem motivated more by political considerations, or a desire for higher ratings for the awards show, than by an effort to recognize those who truly have had a profound impact on our society — but there is no doubt that Bob Dylan is deserving of such recognition.
In fact, you could argue that Dylan’s entire career has been about freedom. Starting from his roots as a folk singer who wrote classics like Blowin’ In The Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin’, to his famous decision to go electric, to his leadership role in the protests against the Vietnam War, and then to his willingness to experiment with different musical styles, including involvement in the Traveling Wilburys, as his career progressed, Dylan always has been willing to challenge authority, display his sharp wit, and follow his own star, wherever it might lead. His uniquely American personal journey has produced a staggering amount of tremendous music, too — great albums like Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, The Basement Tapes, and, more recently, Modern Times, and a huge library of great songs like Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Positively 4th Street, and Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.
America’s leadership role in the world is as much cultural as economic or military. Bob Dylan’s songs have demonstrated, for all the world to see, what memorable beauty a free person in a free country can create. His music has been a great ambassador for the concepts of personal liberty that America was founded to preserve. I’d say it’s about time our government formally recognized what Dylan’s fans recognized long ago.