Inside the Chronicle: Dylan at Princeton and “Day of the Locusts”: A History

This series gives readers an inside look into the scholarly articles that grace the pages of the Princeton University Library Chronicle.

The following is excerpted from the Autumn/Winter 2020 issue; Volume LXXVIII, No. 1.

Dylan at Princeton and “Day of the Locusts”: A History, by Sean Wilentz

FIFTY YEARS LATER, some mystery lingers about the day in 1970 when Princeton awarded Bob Dylan an honorary doctorate in music. Dylan himself has written about it twice, in his song “Day of the Locusts” and in his memoir "Chronicles: Volume One," where he describes it as an unpleasant experience that nevertheless gave him an emblem of solid respectability. Reporting then and since, by journalists, biographers, and historians, along with an interview with one of his sidekicks that day, the unpredictable rock ’n’ roll star David Crosby, have filled in some of the details.

Bob Dylan at Princeton, June 9, 1970. Honorary Degree Records 1794-1991 (AC106), box 6, University Archives, Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

It remains unclear, though, why conservative Princeton, of all places, decided to honor a rule-breaking troubadour, even one as brilliant and admired as Bob Dylan. Nor is much known about why Dylan, an intensely private person who had made only two announced public appearances over the previous four years, would go looking for respectability on a college campus. In “Tombstone Blues,” he put colleges on a par with old folks’ homes; in the comic shaggy-dog “I Shall Be Free No. 10,” he sang of reading poetry at a sorority house and winding up with the dean of women; and in “Ballad of a Thin Man,” he described professors as erudite and clueless.

As it happens, Princeton’s reasons and Dylan’s may have been entwined, something I began to understand only when I stumbled upon a letter in the Bob Dylan Center Archive in Tulsa written by Bruce Funkhouser of the Class of 1970.

About the Princeton University Library Chronicle
The Princeton University Library Chronicle is an interdisciplinary journal sponsored by the Friends of Princeton University Library since 1930. Its mission is to publish articles of scholarly importance and general interest based on research in the collections of the Princeton University Library (PUL). The Chronicle welcomes submissions of articles relating to all facets of the collections. We also welcome articles relating to the history of the University and the Princeton region. The entire archives of the Chronicle (1939-) and its predecessor, Biblia (1930-1938), are available, open-access, full-text on JSTOR.

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