Bob Dylan vs. the ChiCom


Two of our major papers accuse Bob Dylan of knuckling under to commie pressure by doing his first mainland China performance and not laying down such regime-shattering powerhouses as "Blowing in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changing."

From the Los Angeles Times:

At a time when many other American performers have been banned from ChinaBob Dylan was allowed to play Wednesday night in Beijing, but with a program that omitted Dylan's most famous ballads of dissent.

Conspicuously absent from the program at the Workers' Gymnasium were "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Blowin' in the Wind."

From the Washington Post:

In Taiwan on Sunday, opening this spring Asian tour, Dylan played "Desolation Row" as the eighth song in his set and ended with an encore performance of "Blowin' in the Wind," whose lyrics became synonymous with the antiwar and civil rights protest movements.

But in China, where the censors from the government's Culture Ministry carefully vet every line of a song before determining whether a foreign act can play here, those two songs disappeared from the repertoire. In Beijing, Dylan sang "Love Sick" in the place of "Desolation Row," and he ended his nearly two-hour set with the innocent-sounding "Forever Young."

There was no "Times They Are a-Changin' " in China. And definitely no "Chimes of Freedom."

It would really be news if he had played "Blowin" or "Times"–either of them. To have played both would probably have been a Dylan moment as unusual as opening with "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands."And "Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" is arguably as "protesty" in its hard-to-parse poetical way as "Desolation Row," and Dylan played that one in China.

Despite the supposition–normal for most normal big rock entertainers, but Dylan's a rule-breaking maverick, baby!–that of course it's standard practice that a big rock star plays most or all of his 5 to 7 most iconic songs every gol-darned night, Dylan does not roll like a Rolling Stone that way and never has.

I've seen the man perform 28 times from 1987-2009, and because I'm the kind of guy who does that, I also have a record of every song I've seen him play and how often. And he's played "Blowin' in the Wind" exactly five of the 28 times I've seen him, and "The Times They Are A Changing" only three. He just doesn't do them that often.

And while he did, untypically, do an encore of "Blowin'" in Taiwan that night before, that was the weird outlier event needing explaining. If you check, for example, the last 10 Dylan show setlists before this Asian tour began, you'll find him not once playing either of the hoary protest era classic song he's accused of expunging to assuage the ChiCom. (No "Chimes of Freedom," either, also very rare in his live repertoire.)

So, either he's also deathly afraid of the disapproval of the masters of the American northeast, or both the Post and the Times are writing out of ignorance.

Dylanologist note: Bob did hit the godless commies with song one grabbed from his largely neglected hardcore Christian body of work, the tough-minded "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" ("…stop being influenced by fools!")

I apologize to fellow Dylan fans for not sticking more Dylan lyric references in the post. It just wasn't flowing. But here's my 2001 Reason article on his glorious inauthenticity.