7 reasons to lay off Bob Dylan
American columnist Maureen Dowd thinks Bob Dylan is a big sell-out. His crime: leaving the ancient protest songs “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin'” off the set list for concerts in communist China and Vietnam.
You can read more informed opinions than mine on the Dylan-Dowd teapot tempest, but if you’d like a two-bit summary that does the thinking for you, as Dowd presumed her audience did, here goes:
1. Where’s the evidence Dylan’s set list was censored?
This whole furor started when Maureen Dowd speculated that Dylan’s set list had been scrubbed for China, and went off in high dudgeon. No investigation, no sources. That approach would be familiar to a communist audience.
2. Bob Dylan is not a protest singer.
While songs like “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” were part of the zeitgeist of the 60s, Dylan hasn’t written songs like that for years, and he rarely plays those ones in concert.
Interestingly, Dylan’s set list in “Godless” China included the defiant gospel number “Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’. Chinese Christians, an oppressed minority if ever there was one, were probably delighted.
3. If Bob Dylan starts making statements, where should he stop?
Dylan could be protesting the airline he flies with, the size of California’s public debt, the exclusion of Elizabeth May from the Canadian election debates, disrespect for Native American treaty rights, or whatever, depending where he’s playing. Where do we draw the line?
4. Maybe dissing China isn’t as powerful as playing in China.
If there’s any good to be found in Dylan’s music, you can guarantee it’s going to gain a lot more ground if Dylan actually gets to play it. The mere fact of Dylan playing in China is arguably doing more good than him making a statement about Chinese human rights.
5. Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury.
Presumably, Bob Dylan wants to do business with China more than he wants to take China to task. Sound familiar? Our government and corporations feel likewise, and we enjoy many of the household products we use on a daily basis as a result.
6. Does anyone understand what Bob Dylan says anyway?
At any given point in a concert, for all the audience knows, Bob Dylan could be reciting the UN Declaration of Human Rights over the chords for “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” Now imagine the audience is composed of Chinese citizens with a rudimentary grasp of English. You do the math.
7. Bob Dylan doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
None of this is new. We’re talking about Bob Dylan, here. Bob Dylan embarrassed everyone at Live Aid with off-message comments about suffering American farmers, and a rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that just plain stank. Bob Dylan sold the right to use “The Times They Are A-Changin'” to a major Canadian chartered bank. Bob Dylan became a born-again Christian. Bob Dylan presented an album of classic folk tunes as if they were his own. Bob Dylan went on tour plastered with Tiny Tim style pancake makeup. Bob Dylan showed up randomly at Neil Young’s childhood house hoping for a tour of the place. Bob Dylan acted like he was Woody Guthrie’s kid. Bob Dylan hijacked a version of “House of the Rising Sun” from Dave Van Ronk. Bob Dylan plugged in and went electric at Newport and hurt Pete Seeger‘s poor ears. Bob Dylan was found wandering around in a hoodie, mistaken for a hobo, and picked up by the cops. Bob Dylan claimed his voice was going to be used on automobile GPS units.
Conclusion? Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan. He’s a weird dude. He doesn’t care what you think, what Maureen Dowd thinks, or what any of us think. Bob Dylan thinks for himself.
Take that, Maureen Dowd. Take that, angry commentators chiming in.
Come to think of it… a man who thinks for himself? Take that, Communist China!