Dylan Disappoints

Bob Dylan has confounded many fans over his career. First, of course, when he turned electric. Then when he turned country (“Lay Lady Lay”) crooner. The “Self Portrait” album was a major disappointment to many too.

But then he redeemed himself with next phase of amazing work, including “Jokerman,” with accompanying music video by George Lois. Dylan is always in a state of flux. He does not like to be pinned down. What he likes – and loves – is the music.

He may not be the protest troubadour of yore, but how could an artist be frozen in time like that. Isn’t it enough that we have the music he made back in the 60s? Those will always be generational anthems, whether he plays them or not. Or plays them in such a way that they are incomprehensible today.

But this past week “beautiful Bob” might have stepped over the line. His first concert in China, which by all accounts ignored the fact that dissidents, like the architect Weiwei is in detention, is something of a betrayal, if not to his fans, then to his own subversive nature. Or as Maureen Dowd writes:

Bob Dylan may have done the impossible: broken creative new ground in selling out.

 

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 — even worse than Beyoncé, Mariah and Usher collecting millions to croon to Qaddafi’s family, or Elton John raking in a fortune to serenade gay-bashers at Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wedding.
I give Dylan a long leash when it comes to his persona, since his music is paramount, and he’s proved many times over that his art has incredible power to move and inspire. But, this concert subverts even the great subverter. China is a human rights disaster and censorship haven. To succumb to the demands of the Chinese government seems like Dylan just blew too much wind in the wrong direction.

(Read about And & Et in the last Nightly Heller.)

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11 COMMENTS

  1. … And it’s not so horrible a thing, that Dylan played in China to a house packed with Dylan fans–fans that shouldn’t be deprived of such a show simply because their government happens to do questionable things. Every government does questionable things. Should all artists suppress their own art in order to try to change state policies? I would see that as completely backward. And I reckon there was enough of Dylan–in the songs he was given permission to sing–to give everyone in attendance a rare thrill and a glimpse of something they’re not usually allowed to see.
    “And you know something’s happening here, but you don’t know what it is–do you, Hu Jintao?”

  2. Huh. Those who live in glass houses, should not throw stones.
    What about what our US troops are doing to Iraq and Afghanistan citizens? What about those who sit wrongly accused in US jailhouses? And once exonerated after a lifetime of jail time, are shunned by the US Supreme Court?

    Bob Dylan a sell out? WTF.
    Disappointed in Maureen Dowd too who even says that what Beyonce, Mariah and Usher did is ok???? And Dylan’s actions are worse? Give me a break.

  3. Roy,
     
    Excellent point. And the one that hits the nail and the nailer.
     
    yes, I publish books with publishers who print in China. And I have had some of my books censored in China. See this article on AIGA: http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/censorship-chinese-style.
     
    It is impossible to be 100 percent pure. And there are many reasons for accepting China as a publishing partner – and an educational partner too.
     
    I suppose the glass house rule is now in effect.

  4. for Jimackey:
     
    1. What the hell in Heller does this story have to do with design?
     
    I don’t always cover purely design stories. Popular, political and social culture are also part of the beat. ‘
     
    2. Where do you get the balls to accuse Dylan of selling out for playing in China?  Your country openly supports torture, regularly detains prisoners without charge, and attacks countries without provocation. So should we condemn all artists for playing in the US?

    We have plenty of artists who stand up against tyranny – and sometimes pay for it. The Dixie Chicks and Neil Young (I know he’s Canadian, but lives in the U.S.). Perhaps it is unfair, but would have liked more from Dylan, at least in this instance.
     

  5. the chinese missed nothing; Dylan has been worthless as a live performer for years. Rude, unintelligible, lazy. Bla bla bla bla but he’s such an icon bla bla bla. He sold out a long, long time ago.

  6. Bob Dylan is one of the most savvy and prescient marketers living, so really, why be surprised? What will be interesting to see is what he does next to relieve anyone who thought of him as some sort of [folk] hero that he hasn’t TOTALLY sold out just yet. 

  7. Two questions for you…
    1. What the hell in Heller does this story have to do with design?
    2. Where do you get the balls to accuse Dylan of selling out for playing in China?  Your country openly supports torture, regularly detains prisoners without charge, and attacks countries without provocation. So should we condemn all artists for playing in the US?

  8. I once heard that Bob Dylan still tours because he has so much child support and divorce settlement issues, that he has to make tons of money by live performances to pay them off. Now I only think of him that way and that’s why he’s probably selling out…or maybe it’s just a ridiculous rumor.