What songs would have been appropriate for Bob Dylan to sing in China?

Bob Dylan performs for a decadent Western audience in 2009

Maureen Dowd threw a [gender-neutral term for a hissyfit] Sunday in the New York Times, arguing that Bob Dylan bowed to the wishes of tyrants when he neglected to play protest hits like like "Blowin’ in the Wind" and "The Times, They Are a-Changin’ " during recent concerts in China:

"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 … Before Dylan was allowed to have his first concert in China on Wednesday at the Worker’s Gymnasium in Beijing, he ignored his own warning in ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ — ‘Better stay away from those that carry around a fire hose’ — and let the government pre-approve his set."

There’s some trenchant analysis to be made here about Western musicians performing in a country that has been cracking down on writers and artists in recent weeks, most notably Ai Weiwei, the architect of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium, who was arrested last week for vague reasons. But Dowd seems to miss this general point — should Bob Dylan be playing in China? — in favor of a more specious specific one — should Bob Dylan have played two songs Maureen Dowd likes while in China?

Over at The Atlantic, James Fallows unpacks the situation. Dylan may not have played "Blowin’ in the Wind" or "The Times They are a-Changin’," but he did open his show with his Jesus-period "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking," a small rebuke in itself to the rigidly atheistic Chinese regime. While he was at it, Dylan also played the vitriolic "Ballad of a Thin Man" and the decidedly political "A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall." Something was happening there, but Maureen Dowd doesn’t know what it is.

Or, as Dylan would have put it in in "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again":

Now the redhead writes a column
Filled with expensive violins

Talkin’ ’bout the architect
And all his Chinese plans

The headlines tried to say to me
Hey, sing the same old songs

If only the dissident next-door had told me
That I was doin’ everything so wrong!

Oh! Mama! etc.


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