Maureen Dowd whined in the Sunday NYT that Bob Dylan is a sell-out becaused he agreed to play in China, and didn’t denounce the Chinese government on stage.
Sean Wilentz counters
In 1964, Irwin Silber, the editor of the lefty folk music magazine Sing Out!, notoriously blasted Dylan for daring to lay aside his protest material. A product of the Popular Front Communist Left, Silber was offended that Dylan had ceased writing and performing narrowly political songs. Now Maureen Dowd, of the august liberal New York Times, is offended that Dylan failed to perform these same songs during his recent shows in Beijing and Shanghai. Apparently, unless Dylan performs according to a politically-correct line, he is corrupt, even immoral. He is not allowed to be an artist, he must be an agitator. And he can only be an agitator if he sings particular songs.
Dowd isn’t angry that Dylan performed in China. She is angry that he apparently agreed to do so under certain conditions, that he didn’t sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” and that he didn’t take the opportunity to denounce Chinese human rights policies.
I don’t know exactly what Dylan did or did not agree to. (I don’t think Dowd does, either.) But whatever the facts are, Dylan knows very well—as I tried to tell Dowd when she interviewed me for her column—that his music long ago became uncensorable. Subversive thoughts aren’t limited to his blatant protest songs of long ago. Nor would his political songs from the early nineteen-sixties have made much sense in China in 2011. Dowd, like Mr. Jones in “Ballad of a Thin Man,” is as clueless about all of this as she is smug.
How much more subversive could Dylan have been in Communist China? Especially when he went on to sing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and, most unnerving of all, “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Depending on whatever agreement he made with them, I’d argue Dylan made a fool of the Chinese authorities, while getting paid in the bargain. He certainly made a fool of Maureen Dowd—or she has made a fool of herself.
(click here to continue reading News Desk: The Real Dylan in China : The New Yorker.)
Dowd should stick to doing what she does, making up imaginary conversations with political figures.
And like I’ve said before, artists shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than everyone, and everything else. If it isn’t forbidden to trade with China, eat Chinese food, it shouldn’t be forbidden to play there either.