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The Inscrutable Occidental—Bob Dylan In China
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April 08, 2011, 12:42 AM
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From the LA Times, a story that cracked me up not because of the politics but because of trying to imagine the puzzlement of the Chinese audience over why they had paid all this money for tickets to see this guy.
At a time when many other American performers have been banned from China, Bob Dylan was allowed to play Wednesday night in Beijing, but with a program that omitted Dylan`s most famous ballads of dissent. Conspicuously absent from the program at the Workers` Gymnasium were "The Times They Are A-Changin`" and "Blowin` in the Wind." Dylan`s set list had to be sanctioned beforehand by the Ministry of Culture, which in its formal invitation decreed that he would have to "conduct the performance strictly according to the approved program."
Still, the 69-year-old musician, clad in a white panama hat and drainpipe trousers, sung and strummed before a welcoming crowd of 6,000. He worked his way through a repertoire that included "Tangled up in Blue" and "Simple Twist of Fate." The only time Dylan paused in the workmanlike performance to address the audience was when he introduced the members of his band. ...
Dylan is so unknown in China that one newspaper, the Shanghai-based Xinmin Evening News, ran a story about his upcoming concerts alongside a big photograph of country music star Willie Nelson.
During the height of Dylan`s popularity in the 1960s, China was entirely closed off to the West. Only in the 1980s did social and economic liberalization allow Chinese to hear rock music. But none of Dylan`s albums have ever been officially released in China.
At the Beijing concert Wednesday, many Chinese attendees admitted they knew little of Dylan`s music or legacy. "His music is OK. But I don`t speak English, so I can`t understand what he`s singing," Gao Mingwen said outside the stadium. "I hear he`s very famous though."
I saw Dylan 25 years ago when he toured with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as his band. The pairing sounded good in theory, but Petty`s good-natured showmanship just made Dylan look bad. Petty is no giant of American culture, but he works hard to entertain his audience, which Dylan didn`t. He just stood there and whined. And I can`t imagine that Dylan has become a more dynamic performer as he`s aged. "Tangled Up in Blue" from 1974 is a great, great song, but to appreciate Dylan as fully as his American acolytes do, you kinda had to be there in 1965, which the Chinese most definitely weren`t.