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Bob Dylan is a celebrated artist who has won a number of awards throughout his lengthy career. He picked up an award from the Emergency Civil Liberty Committee early in his life and reluctantly gave a speech at the ceremony. While Dylan already felt uncomfortable, things took a downward turn during the speech. According to Dylan, the crowd didn’t like what he was saying and began to boo him.

Bob Dylan sits in a chair with headphones around his neck.
Bob Dylan | Stanley Bielecki/ASP/Getty Images

Bob Dylan didn’t feel comfortable at an award ceremony 

In the early 1960s, Dylan accepted an award from the Emergency Civil Liberty Committee. He said he felt uncomfortable the moment he arrived at the ceremony.

“As soon as I got there, I felt up tight,” Dylan told The New Yorker in 1964. “First of all, the people with me couldn’t get in. They looked even funkier than I did, I guess. They weren’t dressed right, or something. Inside the ballroom, I really got up tight. I began to drink.”

Bob Dylan wears sunglasses and sits at a table in front of a microphone.
Bob Dylan | Fiona Adams/Redferns

He said that even though his political beliefs should have aligned with everyone else’s, he didn’t feel connected to anyone. This frightened him.

“I looked down from the platform and saw a bunch of people who had nothing to do with my kind of politics,” he explained. “I looked down and I got scared. They were supposed to be on my side, but I didn’t feel any connection with them.”

Bob Dylan said the crowd booed him while he was accepting the award

Dylan said he tried to leave, but people stopped him and said he had to accept the award. He reluctantly took the stage. Before this, people had been discussing John F. Kennedy’s death, so he started talking about Lee Harvey Oswald in his speech.

“When I got up to make my speech, I couldn’t say anything by that time but what was passing through my mind,” he explained. “They’d been talking about Kennedy being killed, and Bill Moore and Medgar Evers and the Buddhist monks in Vietnam being killed. I had to say something about Lee Oswald. I told them I’d read a lot of his feelings in the papers, and I knew he was up tight. Said I’d been up tight, too, so I’d got a lot of his feelings. I saw a lot of myself in Oswald, I said, and I saw in him a lot of the times we’re all living in.”

These comments did not land well. 

“And, you know, they started booing,” he said. “They looked at me like I was an animal. They actually thought I was saying it was a good thing Kennedy had been killed. That’s how far out they are.”

Dylan believed his behavior went against expectations. This is why the crowd reacted negatively.

“Now, what I was supposed to be was a nice cat,” he said. “I was supposed to say, ‘I appreciate your award and I’m a great singer and I’m a great believer in liberals, and you buy my records and I’ll support your cause.’ But I didn’t, and so I wasn’t accepted that night.”

He said he no longer wanted to be political

Dylan began his career by singing political songs, but by 1964, he was ready to step away from this. 

“I tell you, I’m never going to have anything to do with any political organization again in my life,” he said. “Oh, I might help a friend if he was campaigning for office. But I’m not going to be part of any organization. Those people at that dinner were the same as everybody else.”

A black and white picture of Bob Dylan with a guitar and a harmonica, in front of a microphone.
Bob Dylan | Rowland Scherman/Getty Images

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He said he didn’t want to be any kind of political spokesperson anymore.

“Now a lot of people are doing finger-pointing songs,” he said. “You know — pointing to all the things that are wrong. Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore. You know — be a spokesman.”