During this past week, the international press have been following Bob Dylan's first gigs in China closely, and I've been reading whatever articles I could find on the web. One in particular got a lot of attention and flak, an opinion piece by New York Times' Maureen Dowd. Essentially it is an article filled with bullshit. The writer was clearly misinformed and obviously didn't do her research before calling Dylan a sell-out. Here's some of what she wrote:
Dylan said nothing about Weiwei’s detention, didn’t offer a reprise of “Hurricane,” his song about “the man the authorities came to blame for something that he never done.” He sang his censored set, took his pile of Communist cash and left.
The idea that the raspy troubadour of ’60s freedom anthems would go to a dictatorship and not sing those anthems is a whole new kind of sellout — even worse than Beyoncé, Mariah and Usher collecting millions to croon to Qaddafi’s family, or Elton John raking in a fortune to serenade gay-bashers at Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wedding.
Wow, really? One must be fucking delusional to even write this bunch of drivel. First of all, I don't think you can really blame Dylan for not speaking out on this issue (Ai Wei's arrest). Besides he hardly says anything onstage at all (other than introducing his band), and has not been politically active in a very long time. Also about the song Hurricane; he has not played it live since the '70s, so why should he now? Not to mention the irrelevance it would have on the audience. The layman will think that just because Dylan wrote 'protest' songs in the '60s, he was therefore a protest singer, and therefore he always had a duty and obligation to speak out against authority. This is utterly stupid, cause he was NEVER a protest singer to begin with.
As for the part about the 'censored set'; almost every article claims that the Chinese government decided what couldn't be played, but there has not been an official source that justifies this. So we all assume that the setlist was indeed government-approved. As a result, Ms. Dowd goes on to criticize Dylan for not playing songs like Blowin' In The Wind and The Times They Are-A Changin', and that he gave in to the government. But wait, how do we even know that those two songs were censored? Blowin' was actually played on Chinese State Television, on a news feature about Dylan, prior to the concerts.
Now the man rarely ever plays Blowin' in concert and the last time Times was played was for President Obama at the White House the previous year. Look at the setlists from the Beijing and Shanghai shows; he did Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking, Ballad Of A Thin Man, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, All Along The Watchtower and Desolation Row, songs (as we all know) more 'dangerous' than Blowin' and Times -- their lyrics certainly not as direct, but they definitely say a lot more and can be interpreted in a lots of ways, especially politically. If the government were to censor any songs, it should've been these few. After all, they are the more subversive tunes, right?
So ultimately what Bob Dylan did was right. He just shut up and sang. After all, he treated the China shows like any other normal show he's been doing for the past decade. I think in a way that was his protest against his detractors. But some people like Ms. Dowd just had to look into everything and unrealistically expect Dylan to be something he never was, and as a result, mislead the public. This is just my two cents worth; pardon the rambling. I would expect this Friday's show I'm attending to have a similar setlist, in which I'm more than pleased.
P.S. Interesting fact: This day marks the 50th Anniversary of Dylan's very first major performance, which took place in New York City.