Positively Her Opinion Blues, or Dowd in the Flood
By Django Jones
At this point, I’m sure she wishes she never wrote it. The backlash, the extent of which I’m sure she didn’t expect, has been swift and severe. A few lefties still defend her position, but she’s quickly become marginalized to the point of appearing out and out ridiculous by nearly anyone who knows anything about Dylan.
I’m talking about Maureen Dowd, of course – renowned liberal journalist, fervent voice on the side of what’s right and righteous. But in this case, her righteousness bit her righteously on the ass. You see, when you don’t actually know much about the subject you’re writing about, but you write about it anyway, taking an elevated point of view, you might just come falling down off that perch – or high horse, to lay on a little more cliché. Which is exactly what happened to Maureen.
Everybody who’s reading this knows the story by now, so there’s no need in me restating all the particulars. At 21, Bob wrote, “I know my song well before I start singing.” He’s practiced that credo scrupulously since, but this is a lesson Ms. Dowd, at 59, still needs to learn. For instance, I’d never write a review of a classical concert, because I just don’t know enough about classical (though Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto is one of my favorite pieces of music) to do it justice. I could say that I liked it, that it moved me, that the violinist was really good, (Heifetz is #1 with me) but I wouldn’t have the expertise to speak about it in a language that wouldn’t sound trite and uninformed to real classical musicians and aficionados.
This is precisely what Ms. Dowd did, (“miz dowd did, yeah, miz dowd did…” it kind of strikes me like “black betty, blam da lam,” for some weird reason) when talking about Dylan’s China concert. China, as we all know, isn’t exactly the most open country when it comes to the arts. You remember the Gang of Four (not the band) routing out dissidents and destroying all the art in the nation that didn’t celebrate Mao and the great revolution. Well, that basic tradition is still alive and well in China, and though Mao is happily dead (I think on his grave it should say, “This was a truly weird guy”) and though they’ve embraced capitalism to some degree, they haven’t embraced freedom of expression to much of a degree at all. Last year, Dylan tried to play China and they wouldn’t allow him in. This year, they gave him the OK, but only if he didn’t play his protest songs. “Whew,” Bob must have said, “well, that’s a relief.”
And Bob, who you all remember, stood in front of President Obama and the White House audience of politicians and their wives and sang “The Times They Are a Changin’,’” (Macca, who I love, in contrast sang ‘Michelle,’ which was very cool, but I’m just saying, Bob does have his edge still…) was now absolved by those merciful Chinese bureaucrats of having to sing “Blowin in the Wind” or “Times” and relieved of having to suffer through yet one more huge but positively meaningless-in-the-long-run iconic moment in his life. Instead, he played songs from a set list pretty much like any other set list he’s been playing on this particular tour. The point was, he got to play for the Chinese people. A small number of them, by the way, but now he could stick a pin in the giant map in his house that tracks every gig he’s played for the last fifty years. *(Note to Maureen Dowd – There is no giant map as far as I know, I made that up… just telling you so you don’t read it here and repeat it, saying yet another stupid thing in print... I’m also offering this in the interest of honesty in journalism.)
Which Maureen Dowd wasn’t. Honest, that is. She saw a blurb somewhere on the newswire that read “Dylan plays China and doesn’t play ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’” and tried to turn it into a thing that it wasn’t. She also said something about him taking the money and running, which was a joke. He wasn’t paid millions, it was a little gig in terms of attendance, and he plays about a hundred shows a year and makes plenty of money doing them, thank you. It wasn’t remotely like Beyonce playing for Kaddafi’s kids for 2 million bucks, it was part of the never ending tour, just on the road heading for another joint, he’s been all around the world, boys, and he’s tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door. That’s all. He wanted to go the China. Maybe somebody told him about a restaurant there. He went, he played – played some radical songs, by the way, singing :
“Where the people are many and their hands are all empty Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison Where the executioner's face is always well hidden…”
which might have a little bit to say about today’s China. In that song and some of the others he played, he got a few subversive messages through, but he does that everywhere, every time. That’s the point of it, him playing all over. Infecting people with and idea or two, one audience at a time. Putting it out there, then it’s up to them. To listen.
Personally, I think he just wanted to be able to say he’d played China before he quit touring for good. Maybe next year he’ll be doing a gig in Antarctica.
But selling out? Come on.
Then again, what do I know, I’m not a big time PBS Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Nope. I’m just a guy who knows his particular song well before I start writing.