In 1970 Dylan was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Princeton University. Dylan became very uncomfortable at the event, especially when he was asked to wear a cap and gown. Adding a dramatic biblical flourish, the Princeton campus was in the throes of a locust infestation that day, something the occurs every 17 years.
The song title is a reference to the 1939 novel by American author Nathanel West (1903-40), The Day of the Locust. West had worked for a time in Hollywood as a scriptwriter and the book explores the seamy underside of the American movie industry. The novel's title is thought to be a biblical allusion to certain passages in the Old Testament such as in the Book of Joel 2: 25, "I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten."
This has nothing to do with Dylan's song but here's a bit of trivia connected with West's novel. One of the book's characters, the hopelessly clumsy "everyman," is named Homer Simpson. Although it has been suggested that The Simpsons creator Matt Groening called his famous thick-headed, beer-swilling cartoon creation after the character of the same name in The Day of the Locust, he actually named him after his own father.
Honorary degrees are given by academic institutions to honor famous or accomplished people, and generally have nothing to do with the institution itself. They are at best a PR ploy and at worst a farce - something Dylan points out in this song.
As to why Dylan accepted the degree, Tim Riley, in his book Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary, asserts that Dylan only went through with it so he could write a song about it snubbing academia.
Richard G. Biever from Indianapolis, InThis is a great song. The line about the "head exploding" took on new meaning for me after reading Dylan's autobiography. I think it refers to the Princeton official who introduced Dylan with the cliche "spokesman of a generation" type stuff that Dylan was desperately trying to shed at that point, talked about in his autobiography. I think it means he was talking nonsense in Dylan's eyes and hoped the "pieces wouldn't fall on" him, referring to reigniting all the popular media's references to Dylan as this voice of the generation.
Tahoe from Zephyr Cove, NvYou guys have some of it right -- but Tim Riley certainly does not !! A classmate and friend of mine was actually the host for Dylan on that day. David Crosby came to Princeton with Dylan. Dylan felt like backing out of the speech (he had just turned 30, and it was he who said 'do not trust anyone over 30 ). Crosby reminded Dylan that the reason he had decided to attend was that he could tell his mom that he finally got a degree. My friend who was their host played in a band with me, and was also a DJ at the campus radio station, which is how he came to be asked to write Dylan's manager and ask him to be the commencement speaker. Dylan did NOT do it just to
Frank from Princeton, NjThe eastern half of the United States is home to a unique set of species, called periodical cicadas, whose members spend 13 or 17 years underground before suddenly emerging into a frenzied and noisy adulthood....During Brood X's 1970 emergence, Bob Dylan visited Princeton University in New Jersey, part of X's vast patch, to collect an honorary degree. Musical lore says he wasn't impressed with the university or the degree. But he added to the immortality of cicadas with a song he wrote about the occasion, "Day of the Locusts." This is the correct interpretation, though the specific topics he covers in the song can be whatever he wanted. I live in Princeton, and the roar of these creatures is deafening, all day, all night. The above quote is from the Washington Post, By Cameron W. Barr Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, March 28, 2004; Page A01
Scott from Ipswich, MaWhen Dylan wants to snub someone or something, he does so a lot more pointedly. See Masters of War, Positively Fourth Street, etc.
Micah from Mansfield, IlIn Dylan's book, Chronicles, he describes this event with great detail. He describes his awkward feelings about having all of the people in the crowd stare at him, and then goes on to tell of how his friend who went along with him, David Crosby, called all of the people attending the event, a bunch of "d*ckheads".
Tony from Liverpool, EnglandThe title is also a reference to the Nathanel West novel 'Day of The Locust', one of the first novels about the sleaze and cruelty of Hollywood (strangely enough, one of the main character's name is Homer Simpson. ?!?)
Fergal from Dublin, IrelandThe line "the man sitting next to me, his head was exploding" refers to one of Dylan's friends who smoked a little bit too much on the trip up with Bobby and wife Sara. Brilliant!!!
Barry from New York, NyRecorded in August 1970 for the final NEW MORNING sessions.
Jacob from Brooklyn, NyYeah, the story goes that this was the last time (before last spring) when the Cicadas came out for their cyclical appearance. I was at Princeton last spring about this time when the Cicadas came out, and it's quite a scene- you can hear a constant droning buzz in the background, and the Cicadas are all over the place in the thousands.
Baba from New York, NyThere was a story in the New York Times about Dylan being plauged by an actual storm of locusts while receiving this award and thus the song...did anyone else see this or know about it?