“You’re an idiot, babe. It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe…”

For those who don’t know, that’s a line from Bob Dylan’s song, “Idiot Wind,” and it is perfectly applicable to the ever-clueless, though strangely attractive, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. This morning, Dowd expresses her disappointment that prior to his performances in China, Dylan allowed the government censors to approve his set list. This meant, according to Dowd, no protest songs from the Voice of Her Generation against the oppressive Chinese government. Too bad Dowd does not know Dylan. If she were even remotely conversant with his body of work, she would have seen that the set lists he chose to play in his first several Chinese shows did indeed include “protest songs.” But they weren’t the sort that Dowd had in mind. They weren’t her cup of tea, so to speak. For Dowd’s “generation,” “protest” is about tea rooms and not tea parties. Thus, Dowd does not understand the nature of the freedom longed for by the Chinese people.  I suspect that Bob Dylan does understand. This is why you find these lyrics in the song with which he opened up his show on April 6 in Beijing, “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”:

Change my way of thinking
Make myself a different set of rules
I’m gonna change my way of thinking
Make myself a different set of rules
Gonna put my best foot forward
Stop bein’ influenced by fools….

Jesus is coming
He’s coming back to gather His jewels
Jesus is coming
He’s coming back to gather His jewels
Well, we live by the Golden Rule
Whoever got the gold, rules…

There are storms on the ocean
Storms out on the mountain too
Storms on the ocean
Storms out on the mountain too
Oh Lord
You know I have no friend without you

And on April 3 in Taiwan, he opened up with these lyrics from “Gotta Serve Somebody”:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Given China’s abysmal human rights record on religious liberty, these lyrics are so downright subversive that they would even unflatten Joan Baez’s voice.  But Dowd can’t see it, which begs the question, “What’s a sweetheart like you, doing in a dump like this?” Or, as Dylan put it in “Idiot Wind“:

People see me all the time and they just can’t remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts
Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at
I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that
Sweet lady

Others have offered observations similar to mine. You can find them here, here, and here.

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  • http://notdarkyet-commentary.blogspot.com/ charlie

    The thing about Dylan is that he is a poet who has routinely upset his fans. When he went electric at the Newport Festival, he upset his folk music fans. The he upset his rock fans during his Nashville Skyline phase. His “Jesus years” upset many more of his fans. Then when he returned to some of his folk/rock roots (and even his Jewish roots) he upset his newfound evangelical Christian fans who wanted him to stay in some Vineyard Fellowship mold.

    Now he is doing more blues, but his “Modern Times” recording demonstrated that he had become more of a national treasure than a voice for his generation. All in all, it is no surprise that Ms. Dowd wants to see “her” Dylan on stage rather than some “other” Dylan. The fact is, he is both a poet and a performer. I doubt that he will ever be pinned down by his fans.

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