Greatest hits: album reviews

Bob Dylan's talkin' Chinese blues

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2011, 12:00am

Music legend Bob Dylan is rarely straightforward. His art is all impersonation, metaphor and myth. So it was a huge surprise to see him pen a web post on 'this so-called China controversy'.

First, Dylan denied he'd been banned in China when touring Asia last year. Those reports, he said, came from a local promoter who wanted him to play the mainland. But the guy couldn't deliver, and shifted the blame to the government. 'If anybody had bothered to check with the Chinese authorities, it would have been clear that [they] were unaware of the whole thing.'

This might be the funniest line he has written for some time. If anyone is more inscrutable and unlikely to deliver a straight answer than Bob Dylan, it is the Chinese authorities.

But the explanation rings true. It actually surfaced last year, but never got much traction in the Western media, which seemed happier to seize on a more familiar trope: that China's thought police had barred the Bard.

Next, Dylan denied caving in to censorship last month, when he did finally play Beijing and Shanghai. Critics had accused him of kowtowing to demands that he shun his '60 classics Blowin' In The Wind and The Times They Are a'Changin'.

The complaints were about 45 years too late. Dylan rarely plays those songs in concert. Long ago he left 'protest music' to veer bravely into surrealism, country, gospel, Americana, rock'n'roll. His true allegiance has been to himself and his own muse.

Few world figures embody the power of the individual as does this ornery singer with the craggy, ruined voice. Still vital, just one week shy of 70, his very presence is a reproof to authoritarianism. He has no need to explain himself. But we're glad he did.