Usually when Bob Dylan opens his mouth he's singing, so the rambling 35-minute speech he gave Friday to a crowd of 3,000 of music's royalty had his audience, as the New York Times puts it, "hanging on his every word" as he careened from the topic of his work to his critics, at times lapsing into "a kind of rhapsodic, canny prose-poetry." "These songs of mine," Dylan told the MusiCares charity event, which was honoring him as person of the year, "they’re like mystery plays, the kind Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they’re on the fringes now." Dylan was feted by A-listers ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Jack White; former President Jimmy Carter saluted Dylan's "words on peace and human rights are much more incisive, much more powerful and much more permanent than those of any president of the United States."
He thanked artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary for covering his songs, saying they "were like commercials. But I didn’t really mind that, because 50 years later my songs were used for commercials. So that was good, too." He threw Jimi Hendrix into that mix, notes Rolling Stone, saying, "He took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to and brought them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere, turned them all into classics. I have to thank Jimi, too. I wish he was here." Of his work, he says "my songs didn’t just come out of thin air—I didn’t just make them up," adding, "If you sang 'John Henry' as many times as me ... you would have written 'How many roads must a man walk down,' too." And to his many critics: "Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day 1," he said. "Critics say I can’t sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don’t critics say the same thing about Tom Waits?" The Times notes that the event usually ends with a performance by the honoree, but Dylan slipped off into the night leaving Neil Young to perform "Blowin' in the Wind." (The LA Times has a transcript of the whole speech.)