Multimillionaire musician Bob Dylan performed in China this week and, shockingly, did not sing ancient protest song "Blowin' in the Wind." This, writes New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, "is a whole new kind of sellout."

Never mind that Dylan sang "Ballad of a Thin Man"—"Because something is happening here/But you don't know what it is/Do you, Mister Jones?"—or "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"—"I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken/I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children"—both of which are about as subversive as you can get. Dowd heard that the Chinese government got to pre-approve Dylan's set list, and she just knows that they prevented him from singing boring old bullshit like "Blowin' in the Wind":

Iconic songs of revolution like "The Times They Are a-Changin,' " and "Blowin' in the Wind" wouldn't have been an appropriate soundtrack for the 2,000 Chinese apparatchiks in the audience taking a relaxing break from repression....

Dylan said nothing about [artist Ai] Weiwei's detention, didn't offer a reprise of "Hurricane," his song about "the man the authorities came to blame for something that he never done." He sang his censored set, took his pile of Communist cash and left.

Yes, if only Dylan, who has repeatedly and publicly distanced himself from his early incarnation as a writer of protest songs, had sung "The Times They Are a-Changin'"! Surely revolts would have broken out when Dylan sang about "senators and congressmen"! The Chinese government would have freed Ai Weiwei immediately, if only Dylan had said something, and then played Subterranean Homesick Blues to a bunch of rich Chinese concertgoers.

Or maybe Dylan did what he does at all his concerts, which is choose a bunch of songs he feels like singing and not say much about politics at all. As James Fallows points out:

  • The Chinese following for Dylan is not that enormous anyway — in contrast, say, to the Eagles, whom my wife and I saw perform before a packed, enraptured crowd in Beijing last month and who are truly Big in China;
  • The songs that U.S. critics of Dylan were yearning to hear weren't ones that would have resonated in China; and
  • The songs he did sing were plenty boat-rocking themselves. "So much oppression / can't keep track of it no more."

[NYT; The Atlantic]