Bob Dylan's weekend in Washington, D.C. was an exercise in polarity: the
folk-singing spokesman for a generation first spent Thursday and Friday
digging into rousing performances at the small, dark confines of the 9:30
Club; one day later, he was welcomed to the grand halls of the Kennedy
Center to have bestowed upon him the nation's most prestigious artistic
awards, the Kennedy Center Medal of Honor.
More significantly, Dylan, 56, was hailed on Saturday by the entrenched
establishment against which he railed more than 30 years ago in songs such
as "The Times They Are A-Changin'."
Conservative House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) -- leader of the
Republican guard that counts the societal revolution of the 1960s as the
great seed for many of today's social ills -- said at the gala, "The sheer
magic for I think everyone in my generation, is to finally have our nation
recognize Bob Dylan," according to The Washington Post.
Since 1977, the Kennedy Center Honors have been held annually to celebrate
luminary Americans in the performing arts. Also saluted this year were
actors Charlton Heston and Lauren Bacall, opera singer Jessye Norman and
dancer Edward Villella.
"To have Bob Dylan here joining all these other artists, honored by his
country -- this represents the triumph of rock 'n' roll," musician and
producer Don Was told The New York Times. "It's like the passing of
the baton. It's such a victorious moment."
Was played bass on the several Dylan songs performed by others on Saturday
night as a tribute to the songwriter. Medal recipients are invited to
suggest those who will honor them, and Dylan hand-picked Was, mandolin
player G.E. Smith, drummer Steve Jordan and keyboardist Clifford Carter to
serve as the back-up band, according to the Post.
Bruce Springsteen sang "The Times They Are A-Changin'," while country and
western artist David Ball performed "Don't Think Twice" and gospel singer
Shirley Caesar reportedly brought the house down with "You Got to Serve
According to all accounts, the typically quiet Dylan, who has had mountains of critical praise heaped on his latest album, 1997's Time Out Of Mind, maintained a low
profile throughout the evening. At one point, Bacall took the singer on
her arm and encouraged him to smile for photographers, reported the
"He probably had more impact on people of my generation than any other
artist," said President Clinton .
Saturday's ceremony will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 26. -- Chris Nelson [Mon., Dec. 8, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]