Video: Bob Dylan Accepts Lifetime Achievement Award, Plays ‘Masters Of War’ at Grammy Awards – Feb. 20, 1991

Bob Dylan with Lifetime Achievement Award, 1991.

Twenty-Three years ago, on February 20, 1991, Bob Dylan received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy Award ceremonies in L.A.

Jack Nicholson offered a tribute to Dylan, followed by a montage of film clips and Dylan recordings, and then Dylan performed an unrecognizable “Masters of War.”

Nicholson presented Dylan the Lifetime Achievement Award and Dylan responded with a seemingly enigmatic speech that in retrospect seems quite appropriate given the event:

“Well, my daddy, he didn’t leave me much, you know he was a very simple man, but what he did tell me was this, he did say: ‘Son,’ he said… (long pause) …He say, ‘You know it’s possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you. And if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways.'”

Here’s how Greil Marcus wrote about it in Artforum that year:

Real Life Rock Top Ten Spring 1991

1. Bob Dylan: at the Grammy Awards, 20 February 1991.

Thirty years after arriving in New York from Minnesota, Bob Dylan stepped
forward to be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. With the Gulf War in
progress, the blanket of acceptance that had been draped over the show was so
heavy the WAR SUCKS t-shirt New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg wore to the
American Music Awards a few weeks earlier would have been forbidden here;
maybe that’s why Dylan sang “Masters of War”, from 1963, and maybe that’s why
he disguised it, smearing the verses into one long word. If you caught on to
the number, the lyric did emerge – “And I’ll stand o’er your grave/’Til I’m
sure that you’re dead” – but lyrics were not the point. What was was the ride
Dylan and hid band gave them. With hats pulled down and dressed in dark
clothes, looking and moving like Chicago hipsters from the end of the fifties,
guitarists Cesar Diaz and John Jackson, bassist Tony Garnier, and drummer Ian
Wallace went after the song as if it were theirs as much as Dylan’s: a chance
at revenge, excitement, pleasure. You couldn’t tell one from the other, and
why bother?

With this career performance behind him, Dylan took his trophy from a beaming
Jack Nicholson; he squinted, as if looking for his mother, who was in the
audience.

“Well,” he said, “my daddy, he didn’t leave me much, you know he was a very simple man,
but what he did tell me was this, he did say, son, he said”
– there was a long pause, nervous laughter from the crowd –
“he say, you know it’s possible to become so defiled in this world
that your own father and mother will abandon you and if that happens,
God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways.”

Then he walked off. He had managed to get in and out without thanking anybody,
and this night it really did seem as if he owed nobody anything.

Watch the whole thing including Dylan’s “Masters of War” and acceptance speech:

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