Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bob Dylan in China - same as he ever was

By Richard K. Barry 

Bob Dylan just released a reply of sorts to those who considered his concert in China last April as not in keeping with whatever mythologized idea they have of him.

This is actually pretty funny for those who have followed Dylan's career with even passing attention. On a date now etched in popular music history, July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan performed with a rock band at the Newport Folk Festival. The folk music establishment (interesting oxymoron that) criticized him for turning his back on political song writing. There are varying interpretations as to what really happened. Did he get booed by the audience, were there sharp words back stage? Whatever happened, it was clear that for some, Bob Dylan would forever have to meet their expectations or suffer the consequences, and their expectation were that he would forever be a protest song singer.

Rather famously, Dylan has always run screaming in the other direction from other peoples' expectations of what he is supposed to say and be and represent, which, to my mind, is a pretty radical message to send the world.

So, Maureen Dowd at The New York Times thought that Dylan should have gone to China, maybe sang "Blowin' in the Wind," and "The Times They Are a-Changin'."Then he should have made a political speech about China's woeful record on human rights. In other words, he should have been the Dylan we think we remember but who, if he ever existed, hasn't for a long time.

Apparently Dylan was asked to supply a set list to the Chinese authorities and did so, but he also claims that nothing in his performance changed as a result. I guess we'll have to take his word for it. But I have seen the man in concert over the past many years and I don't find that hard to believe. His concerts are not a '60s retrospective road show. Sorry Maureen.

If Dylan was still writing the old protest stuff and performing it every day and then went to China and censored himself then fine, get all high and mighty. But that is not what happened. That is not who he is anymore and if you want to talk about freedom, freedom is getting to decide for yourself who you are.

Isn't that what the '60s was supposed to be all about?

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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