Billions of cicadas that have been underground since 2004 are currently swarming all over the eastern United States, making life absolutely miserable for anyone unlucky enough to live near them. The situation is particularly bad in Washington, D.C., where their numbers are so high that swarms have actually been picked up on weather radar. They filled up the engine of a plane meant to carry reporters to England to cover Biden’s first trip abroad, somehow breaking it and forcing officials to scramble and find a new plane.
A cicada even hit Biden himself as he walked to Air Force One. “Watch out for the cicadas,” he told reporters as he smacked one on his neck. “One just got me.”
This particular group of cicadas is known as Brood X and they hit every 17 years. That means they’ve also come up in 2004, 1987, and 1970. Those 1970 cicadas — essentially the great-grandparents of the current brood — hit Princeton University when Bob Dylan was on hand to accept an honorary degree. A report on the event in Rolling Stone didn’t mention the insects, but it did paint a vivid portrait of his time on the campus with his wife Sara and buddy David Crosby.
“Because of the heat and presumably in sympathy with the majority of the day’s 1200 graduating seniors, Dylan at first refused to wear a black robe,” it reads. “When the ceremonies did begin, Dylan put on an academic gown over his dark-blue, pin-striped suit, but refused the ‘mortar-board’ cap. He also tied a white arm-band on, like the majority of the graduating seniors. The band was engraved with the peace symbol and the insignia of the graduating class, a number ’70.’”
“After the ceremony, Dylan left the stage,” it continues, “took off his robe and with his party, got into a waiting car and drove on down the road.”
He was midway through recording New Morning at the time, and when he went back into the studio on August 12th, 1970, to finish the album, he had a brand new song called “Day of the Locusts” about his time at Princeton. (Check it out right here.) It’s basically a straight-ahead account of the day, down to the intense heat, Crosby’s head “explodin’” from weed he smoked earlier in the day, and his burning desire to get out of there as soon as possible.
In his 2004 memoir Chronicles, Dylan remembers being introduced at the event as “the authentic expression of the disturbed and concerned conscience of Young America.” This did not sit well with him. “I couldn’t believe it!” he writes. “Tricked once more … The sunlight was blocking my vision, but I could still see the faces gawking at me with such strange expressions. I was so mad I wanted to bite myself.”
There were indeed cicadas that day, but it’s clear that Dylan felt that the most irritating locusts were people who swarmed around him wherever he went and burdened him with labels like “the concerned conscience of Young America.” The insects were probably pretty annoying as well.