Wandering China

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Bob Dylan denies China censored his choice of songs [BBC]


Can China really tell the emblem of world change, Bob Dylan what to do? Bob Dylan stands accused by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd for censoring his choice of songs “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,” – something the original anti-war and freedom hero has denied. In the piece written a month ago, she also criticized Dylan for not speaking up for artist Ai Weiwei (New York Times, April 9, 2011).

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Bob Dylan denies China censored his choice of songs
Source – BBC, published May 14, 2011

Dylan’s set lists change from one show to the next. Photo – BBC

Singer Bob Dylan has hit back at suggestions that he gave in to censorship during a recent series of concerts in China.

The folk-rock legend, 69, agreed to give authorities set lists before performances in Shanghai and Beijing.

He was criticised in print and online for ignoring 1960s-era protest songs.

Writing on his website, Dylan has now insisted he knew nothing of any censorship and says he and his band played all the songs they intended to.

Bob Dylan shot to fame in the 1960s as an icon of the anti-war movement in the era of the Vietnam War.

Songs such as The Times They Are a-Changin’ and Like a Rolling Stone became synonymous with the counterculture of the 1960s, and Dylan became a poster-boy for a disenchanted generation.

Dylan’s vast back catalogue spans 34 studio albums and hundreds of individual songs, many recorded since the 1960s and spanning a wide range of musical styles.

He is known for embarking on lengthy concert tours – known as the Never-Ending Tour – sometimes playing 100 times each year.

Set lists change regularly, and the famously stubborn singer-songwriter often confounds fans who turn up wanting to hear specific numbers from his 1960s heyday.

‘New kind of sellout’

Defending his choice of songs for the China leg of his current tour, Dylan wrote: “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.”

He had faced explicit criticism after the China shows, including from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

“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,” she wrote.

Ms Dowd criticised Dylan for not mentioning artist Ai Wei Wei, who was detained by Chinese authorities in the days running up to his first show in China.

“He sang his censored set, took his pile of Communist cash and left,” she wrote.

Bob Dylan has often shied away from the label pinned on him in the 1960s.

“The Chinese press did tout me as a sixties icon, however, and posted my picture all over the place with Joan Baez, Che Guevara, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg,” he wrote on his website.

“The concert attendees probably wouldn’t have known about any of those people.

“Regardless, they responded enthusiastically to the songs on my last 4 or 5 records. Ask anyone who was there. They were young and my feeling was that they wouldn’t have known my early songs anyway.”

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Filed under: Ai Weiwei, BBC, Beijing Consensus, Censorship, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Domestic Growth, Education, Mapping Feelings, Media, Music, Public Diplomacy, Social, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

2 Responses

  1. mrtaurus says:

    Hi there! Thank you for that post. Brilliant just brilliant.

    I am actually curating a project in London for Ai Weiwei’s capture-awareness and release. It is called The Chinese Art Project, http://wp.me/p1yUbw-15, and I am looking to do an exhibition using art as a symbol of unique interpretation and freedom of expression. Hopefully I’ll have 25 peices of art to exhibit from 5 unique artists. You’d be so welcome to come! I guess it’s about pulling together and standing for our rights. Especially in an age of social media power. I’ve put a project video plan up here http://www.youtube.com/ChineseWhisperProj it would be great if you could find an outlet to let readers know.

    Many thanks! Keep up the good work.
    Mr Taurus.

    p.s. i’m on twitter: ChineseTwhisper
    p.p.s. I’ve added your blog to my links on the site

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