Bob Dylan Answers China Charges

Just last month, Bob Dylan played his first con­cert in Chi­na at the Worker’s Gym­na­si­um in Bei­jing. It was­n’t exact­ly a big show. Rough­ly 2,000 peo­ple attend­ed, but it became a big affair at home when NYTimes colum­nist Mau­reen Dowd wrote a caus­tic op-ed, accus­ing Dylan of play­ing a cen­sored set stripped of his rev­o­lu­tion­ary anthems. In short, she declared, Dylan went to Chi­na and sold out his 60s soul:

Icon­ic songs of rev­o­lu­tion like “The Times They Are a‑Changin,’ ” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” wouldn’t have been an appro­pri­ate sound­track for the 2,000 Chi­nese appa­ratchiks in the audi­ence tak­ing a relax­ing break from repres­sion.

Spooked by the surge of democ­ra­cy sweep­ing the Mid­dle East, Chi­na is con­duct­ing the harsh­est crack­down on artists, lawyers, writ­ers and dis­si­dents in a decade. It is cen­sor­ing (or “har­mo­niz­ing,” as it euphem­izes) the Inter­net and dis­patch­ing the secret police to arrest willy-nil­ly, includ­ing Ai Wei­wei, the famous artist and archi­tect of the Bird’s Nest, Beijing’s Olympic sta­di­um.

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.

Now, in a note to fans, Dylan took the rare step of respond­ing to these (and oth­er) accu­sa­tions in a short let­ter pub­lished yes­ter­day. He writes:

As far as cen­sor­ship goes, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment had asked for the names of the songs that I would be play­ing. There’s no log­i­cal answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the pre­vi­ous 3 months. If there were any songs, vers­es or lines cen­sored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intend­ed to play.

I’m guess­ing this response will only part­ly sat­is­fy Dowd. Per­haps Dylan did­n’t change his set to please the appa­ratchiks. But did he miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the right state­ment? Just maybe. But no mat­ter, we’re putting this behind us and get­ting ready for Dylan’s 70th birth­day on May 24. We still love him, warts and all…

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Comments (10)
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  • MD says:

    “I’ve nev­er writ­ten a polit­i­cal song. Songs can’t save the world. I’ve gone through all that.” — Bob Dylan

  • Rollin_tumblin says:

    Has any­one asked his opin­ion of Unit­ed States’ war­rant-less wire­tap­ping, indef­i­nite deten­tions, extra­ju­di­cial assas­si­na­tions and tor­ture? I doubt it.
    I don’t see why any­one would. I don’t excuse or apol­o­gize for the man, but it seems arbi­trary to sin­gle out a con­cert in Chi­na.

  • Noel says:

     Why does the dumb bitch think he should change for China?He has­n’t writ­ten any­thing like those great songs for the past 4 and a half decades!

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  • Nelson says:

    Every­one knows it, but nobody will acknowl­edge it:

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