In 1970, Bob Dylan traveled to Princeton University to accept an honorary degree. It didn’t go well.
He wrote about the day at length in his 2004 memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One.” The person introducing him said Dylan “shuns publicity” and prefers “isolation from the world,” yet “remains the authentic expression of the disturbed and concerned conscience of Young America.”
That rubbed Dylan the wrong way. He wasn’t exactly isolated from the world at this point, though he was taking a break from the rock-star lifestyle. And he had always despised any sort of Spokesman of a Generation cliché.
“Oh Sweet Jesus!” Dylan wrote in “Chronicles.” “It was like a jolt. I shuddered and trembled but remained expressionless. The disturbed conscience of Young America! There it was again. I couldn’t believe it. Tricked once more.”
Dylan goes on, but you get the idea.
He wasn’t totally negative about the experience, though, saying that ultimately, he was glad he came to get the degree, in part because it “had something of the spirit of the universe in it.”
He got a song out of the whole thing, too: “Day of the Locusts,” which was included on his 1970 album, “New Morning.” Apparently, on that day, you could hear locusts off in the distance. Dylan sings about benches “stained with tears and perspiration,” a judge’s chambers that “smelled like a tomb,” and a man next to him whose head was exploding (“I was prayin’ the pieces wouldn’t fall on me”). The sound of the locusts comforts him, connecting him to nature and/or God.
Finally, he sings: “I put down my robe, picked up my diploma/Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive/Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota/Sure was glad to get out of there alive.”
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.
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