Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bob Dylan was not censored in China - and so what if he was

Bob Dylan has spoken out, making a rare public statement, er blog post, on his website, about his allegedly having been censored in China.

I don't blame him for being pissed and stepping up here. The whole incident was widely and wildly misconstrued and badly reported. Most teeth grindingly stupid was this ill-informed, no-nothing column by Maureen Dowd, who never found a cultural trend she wasn't ready to jump on, regardless of her level of knowledge.

This is my favorite part of Bob's statement: “As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There’s no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous three months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play.” 

The emphasis is mine, because I think it's hilarious and gets right at something; Bob plays different sets every night, which anyone who follows him at all knows. Thus, it was ridiculous from the start to read so much into what he DIDN'T play on any given night.

Look, I wasn't there, though I would have have loved to have been. I did have a whole lot of friends there, many sending me email and tweet updates. We all laughed at the idea of a Chinese censor trying to write down Bob's lyrics. Fans who have pored over his music like the Talmud often can't recognize a song in their constantly evolving version, or understand what he is singing these days in his croaky, totally reimagined versions. How the hell would a Chinese censor have any idea?

I will take Bob at his word that he didn't alter the setlist, but the bigger picture is, so what if he did? That would not be selling out, no matter what Maureen Dowd says. It would be making a reasonable compromise to play by the rules of a different place and there is more value to him being there than not. Good old Bjork really didn't do anyone any favors - except maybe her own career - when she yelled "Tibet" at the end of a Shanghai performance of her song "Declare Independence" in 2008. The only result was less Western rockers have been to China since. And who exactly benefits from that.

Give 'em hell, Bob!

Bob in Beijing