Philip Roth emails Bob Dylan about his Nobel Prize in a new song by Amy Rigby (LISTEN).

Philip Roth Emails Bob Dylan About His Nobel Win in a New Amy Rigby Song

Philip Roth Emails Bob Dylan About His Nobel Win in a New Amy Rigby Song

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 1 2016 11:23 AM

Philip Roth Emails Bob Dylan About His Nobel Win in a New Amy Rigby Song

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”From PhilipRoth@gmail to RZimmerman@aol.com,” with love.

Photo by BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images

Amy Rigby’s Diary of a Mod Housewife is an album about things everyone recognizes but no one writes songs about, like the intoxication of developing a crush on a retail clerk (“Knapsack”) or how the anticipation of romance is often more potent than the real thing (“Just Someone I Had in Mind”). At a suburban house concert celebrating the album’s 20th anniversary a few weeks ago, Rigby was forced to censor “Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?” when the host’s 9-year-old daughter picked that moment to sit in on the show—a perfect illustration of the song’s lyrics about the challenges of maintaining adult intimacy in the face of parenthood.

Rigby also debuted an as-yet-unrecorded song on a rather more-covered topic: Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature. But the song, which you can now listen to via her performance on Marc Riley’s BBC show, takes an idiosyncratic approach to the subject, adopting the form of an email from longtime Nobel also-ran Philip Roth to this year’s ambivalent and controversial recipient. It’s called “From PhilipRoth@gmail to RZimmerman@aol.com,” and you can listen to it here; the relevant portion of the broadcast starts just over an hour in.

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Roth himself has had no public comment on Dylan’s win, but in Rigby’s telling, he’s relatively sanguine about his ongoing omission, although he does at one point liken himself to a “hungry tramp” standing in the cold over a trash-can fire. “When it’s over and you turn to dust,” Rigby-as-Roth sings, “they’ll say you wore the laurel for the rest of us.” The song’s ringing guitar chords deliberately evoke Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom,” and Rigby even throws in a snatch of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” but despite her chosen profession, she sounds more sympathetic to the snubbed novelist than the exalted singer-songwriter.

Here's the opening verse:

When you step out onto that Nobel stage
Spare a thought for the man who labors on the page
When you’re standing in the spotlight where you’ve always been
I’ll be alone with a pen, alone with a pen
 
As they lay that medal on your crooked heart
Cast your eyes to the heavens in the name of art
I could send the card, but I believe you know
It’s just another show, another show

Speaking of Diary of a Mod Housewife, Rigby has had the album, which was inspired by the end of her marriage to former dB’s drummer, Will Rigby, pressed up on vinyl for the first time, and though it’s not on streaming, half of its songs are available on Rigby’s fully streamable 18 Again: An Anthology.

Sam Adams is a Slate senior editor and the editor of Slate’s culture blog, Brow Beat.