ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Bob Dylan's (search) lyrics have been taught in universities and debated at academic conferences. Not bad for a college dropout who railed, in "Tombstone Blues" against too much "useless and pointless knowledge."
Well, the times they are a-changin'. Dylan, dressed in a black academic gown, was awarded an honorary doctorate Wednesday by Scotland's oldest university.
The University of St. Andrews (search) said it was making Dylan, 63, an honorary Doctor of Music in recognition of his "outstanding contribution to musical and literary culture."
"Many members of my generation can't separate a sense of our own identity from his music and lyrics," said professor of English Neil Corcoran in an awe-struck address.
Dylan's fusion of folk, blues, country, rock and poetry, Corcoran said, "moved everything on to a place it never expected to go and left the deepest imprint on human consciousness."
"His magnificent songs will last as long as song itself does," he added.
Dylan, who received his doctorate alongside Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam and biologist Cheryll Tickle, arrived 50 minutes into the 90-minute ceremony and did not address the audience of 180 graduating students and their relatives. But his silent — and sometimes yawning — presence onstage brought a strong dose of star power to the university's wood-paneled Younger Hall.
Dylan sat motionless and showed no reaction as a university choir performed a version of his early classic, "Blowin' in the Wind."
Founded in 1413, St. Andrews, northeast of Edinburgh, is Britain's third-oldest university and one of its most prestigious. Its current students include Prince William (search), second in line to the throne.
Announcing the honorary degree earlier this month, university chancellor Brian Lang called Dylan "an iconic figure for the 20th century, particularly for those of us whose formative years were in the 1960s and '70s."
The university also cited Dylan's long-standing interest in Scottish culture. Corcoran said Scottish folk songs and border ballads influenced his early work, while a later song, "Highlands," is based on a poem by Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet.
The musician has many fans among postwar and baby boomer academics. Last month Christopher Ricks, author of the critical analysis "Dylan's Visions of Sin," was elected Oxford University's professor of poetry.
Corcoran said Dylan was "a supremely interesting and significant figure in modern culture."
"I think he's akin to Pablo Picasso in many ways — his staying power, his resilience, the metamorphoses of a very long career," he told BBC radio.
Dylan, who is touring Britain, is due to play the first of two concerts in Glasgow on Wednesday night.
Dylan has accepted only one previous honorary degree, from Princeton in 1970 — a commencement ceremony memorable in part because of a noisy invasion of cicadas.
Dylan seems to have had mixed feelings about the event, which inspired the song "Day of the Locusts":
"I put down my robe, picked up my diploma,
"Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive,
"Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota,
"Sure was glad to get out of there alive."