Dylan takes centre stage at St Andrews for university show

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

There was no question who the assembled throng at St Andrews were there for, but the latest addition to the university's academic community kept them waiting yesterday.

There was no question who the assembled throng at St Andrews were there for, but the latest addition to the university's academic community kept them waiting yesterday.

The students receiving their BA, MA, and Phd awards had all walked across the stage before Bob Dylan appeared to be awarded a doctorate of music.

A few of his fans, the types who follow him everywhere, had managed to obtain tickets for the ceremony. But they were not the only ones whose eyes turned sharply to the left as Dylan entered stage right.

It was not a showy entrance. He wore the traditional full-length academic gown offered to all honorary graduates and took his seat on the front row of the stage just as the student choir of St Salvator's Chapel began to sing. After working their way through the pieces listed on the programme, they made an unexpected addition, prompting a muffled gasp.

"How many roads must a man walk down...", they sang, a choral version of Dylan's legendary protest song "Blowin' in the Wind."

They say nobody sings Dylan like Dylan and St Salvator's Choir did not try. The students performed in perfect harmony. Dylan looked nervous, studying his order of service as if it was the only object in the room. As the choristers sang their last note he looked in their direction.

Several hundred eyes scrutinised the legend for a reaction. There was none. Dylan was inscrutable. As the congregation of parents, students and fans cheered he did not even clap.

Dylan only began to show signs of interest as honorary degrees were presented to the philosopher Professor Hilary Putnam of Harvard University and the microbiologist Professor Cheryl Tickle of the University of Dundee, congratulating the scientist when she returned to her seat. Professor Tickle beamed radiantly. An honorary doctorate from Scotland's oldest university is a tremendous achievement, but warm words from a living legend seemed to sprinkle gold dust on the day.

Then Professor Neil Corcoran strode to the podium to present the world's most famous singer-songwriter to St Andrews. As Professor Corcoran eulogised, Dylan fidgeted. Hearing himself described as "a great writer" he clenched and unclenched his right fist. Then, praised as a "volatile superplus" of creative energy he began to slowly tap his right foot. If Professor Corcoran had hoped for praise or even just a hint that his words impressed the great wordsmith, Dylan was not giving it. He sat in stony silence.

Nearly 20 minutes after taking the stage, Bob Dylan knelt before the Chancellor of the University, Sir Kenneth Dover.

Dylan was on his knees for four times as long as anyone else. It took that long for the applause to die down. When it did Sir Kenneth read the Latin words of ceremony chancellors of the University of St Andrews have used for more than five centuries. Dylan turned and faced the audience. He bowed and took his seat. It was done.

Comments