(Reuters) — Bob Dylan, known for playing concerts with barely a word spoken to his audience, gave a lengthy speech on Friday at a gala in his honor where he chronicled the roots of his music while also praising and ribbing famous figures.
The 73-year-old Dylan, considered by many musicians and critics to be the best singer-songwriter of his time, spoke for 40 minutes at the Los Angeles event tied to this weekend’s Grammy Awards, as he was named “person of the year” by the MusiCares charity.
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter handed Dylan the award after a night of performances of his songs, including “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and “Standing in the Doorway,” by a cast of superstars.
Beck and Sheryl Crow played harmonica, Jack White flew through a guitar solo, Bruce Springsteen jammed with Tom Morello, Norah Jones gave a bluesy piano performance and Los Lobos sang in Spanish.
But Dylan neither played nor sang. Instead, he read from a speech detailing his roots in folk music.
“All these songs are connected, don’t be fooled, I was just opening up a different door in a different kind of way,” Dylan, wearing a bolo tie, told the audience.
To prove his point, Dylan recited lyrics from traditional songs such as “John Henry” and “Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies,” followed by words from his most famous songs such as “Blowin’ In the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” demonstrating how his lyrics mirrored the earlier songs.
He also spoke rapturously about musical figures from his past, calling Joan Baez a “free, independent spirit” and Nina Simone an “overwhelming artist.”
But Dylan also lambasted several famous people he described as having thought little of him, including songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who wrote hits for Elvis Presley.
Dylan grew up in a Jewish family in a remote mining town in Minnesota, then dropped out of college and moved to New York where he became famous in the early 1960s.
The 10-time Grammy winner has tirelessly re-invented himself, at various times taking on the persona of pop jester, rock superstar, evangelizing Christian and wizened poet.
The gala raised a record $7 million for the MusiCares Foundation, which helps members of the music industry who have fallen on hard times, Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences told the crowd.