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Did Bob Dylan Sell His Soul?

Bob Dylan and His Chinese Concert

Political columnist Maureen Dowd of the NYT seems to have had a week or two with little of serious import to talk about; before President Obama ordered the kill on Osama bin Laden, she wrote about the same things that aggravate the rest of us including the new rules at the TSA and how Bob Dylan was a sell-out.

Guess which column sparked more controversy and an indirect response from an American icon?

In the column, Maureen Dowd asserts fairly strongly that Bob Dylan is a sell-out to his political beliefs. She is not the first by far to claim that Bob Dylan has sold his soul; just one of the more recent accusers. In her column, she alleges that Bob Dylan was allowed to perform in China for the first time as a part of an Asian tour, but didn’t use the opportunity to play any of his meaningful work.

In particular, Maureen Dowd is upset that Bob Dylan’s set list in China didn’t songs like ''The Times They Are a-Changin,' '' ''Blowin' in the Wind,'' or “The Hurricane,” but instead included less controversial songs that wouldn’t encourage a revolution or force the Chinese to think in a different way. Maureen Dowd’s anger stems from the fact that:

It [China] is censoring (or ''harmonizing,'' as it euphemizes) the Internet and dispatching the secret police to arrest willy-nilly, including Ai Weiwei, the famous artist and architect of the Bird's Nest, Beijing's Olympic stadium.

In response to the criticism from Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other media strategists, Bob Dylan wrote a response on his web site, which asserted that many of the media claims about the event were false and that the concert was fairly promoted by the Chinese. He said in part:

“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 3 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.” 

Bob Dylan also asserts that the concert was primarily attended by Chinese and not ex-pats; he claims that the Bob Dylan concert posters for the Chinese appeared side-by-side with posters from the likes of Alan Ginsberg and Che Guevera and that his songs were met with an enthusiastic response.

Was Bob Dylan wrong to perform in China given the current political situation in the country? Did he really betray the Chinese people by not playing some of his more incendiary work?

What do you think?