President Barack Obama gathered 13 notable Americans for the Presidential Medal of Freedom awards at the White House last Tuesday. It was a moving and memorable ceremony.
You had such luminaries as novelist Toni Morrison, former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn, Civil Rights activist John Doerr, and others who exemplified courage, originality, and a unique American spirit.
Then there was the singer and songwriter Bob Dylan. In this select company, it seemed to me, watching the festivities on C-Span, that all eyes were on the 71-year-old Dylan, arguably the most distinguished American songwriter of the twentieth century.
When the president presented Dylan with his award, he hastened to smile and felt compelled to add: "And I'm a big fan." The president has two terrific teenage daughters, you'll remember, but he didn't say that about the founder of the Girl Scouts, who was also honored for her great work. Only for Dylan.
Whenever a pop star is included in the company of people who risked their lives for the cause of freedom or invented historic vaccines, there are bound to be snickers. But Dylan deserved this accolade, too. He wrote songs like "Blowin' in the Wind" that made people think and then encouraged them to take action — to advance the cause of freedom.
He always said he never wanted to bear the burden of being known as The spokesman of a generation, but it was (and is) his lot in life. People still look to Bob Dylan for leadership. And yet he remains such an iconic figure that his very act of showing up at the White House wearing sunglasses made splashy headlines, too. (For the record, Dylan wears the shades in public because his eyes have grown sensitive to the torrent of exploding flashbulbs that accompany him everywhere).
Dylan managed, for a few moments, to help us forget about the polarizing nature of our political system. When he was standing in front of the president at the White House, he wasn't a liberal or a conservative. He was an American hero, And he had a lot of fans everywhere, too.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column. (Friedman is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)invention, Shunning the Naysayers and Creating a Personal Revolution," which Penguin will publish in August.) Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.
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