Bob Dylan’s Missed Chance in China

It’s been a long, long time since Bob Dylan has had any credibility as a singer of protest songs.  His one-time reputation as the figurehead of protest is long gone.  (To be fair to Dylan, he may never have wanted the reputation of being considered as the voice of the 1960’s civil rights and anti-war movements.  But if he didn’t want that, it’s a huge rip off for him to keep singing those songs and making money from them.)  But he keeps going on—doing a seemingly continual series of concerts even though all he does is get on stage, sing in an almost incomprehensible voice, have no communication with the audience, and get off so he can get his money.  (He also constantly changes the tempo and sound of his classic songs, which I actually like.)

But, boy, in recent days, has he ever missed a chance to do some actual good and cause some actual changes.  He is currently in China.  He performed one concert a few days ago and is scheduled to perform another one on Friday.  The kicker is that he capitulated to censorship from the Chinese government by agreeing to leave out any songs the government decided were not to be performed.  Thus, for example, Dylan did not perform “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Desolation Row,” or “Times They Are a-Changin’.”  (He had performed those songs in Taiwan just two days prior to the China concert.)

Wouldn’t it have been great to see Dylan agree before the concert not to perform the songs and then go on stage and sing them anyway?  Now, that would have been a protest!  What would the Chinese government do, put him in jail?  Keep him from leaving the country?  No, it would be almost impossible to believe they would do that.  After all, when Bjork performed in concert in China in 2008, she yelled “Tibet! Tibet!” during her song “Declare Independence.”  She was allowed to leave the country.

Bob Dylan, don’t you at least think about doing something that would make those who at one time idolized you think that you are still capable of making a difference?  You have another chance on Friday.  What are you going to do?

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