Recently, Bob Dylan figured in a controversy when he decided to play concerts in China, a repressive nation, without performing any of his vintage, so-called "protest songs" such as "Blowin' in the Wind" or "The Times They Are a-Changin'" or "Masters of War."
It was a ridiculous charge by journalists who wanted to exploit Dylan's name in the hope of increasing their own fame (and the number of their page views on the Internet).
The naysayers utterly missed the point of what Dylan, who turns 70 on May 24, has always been all about. He walks softly and carries a big stick, in the tradition of another great American. He seldom speaks out on political issues. Anyway, Dylan's great finger-pointing songs were always more about calling attention to examples of injustice than partisan politics.
Dylan pointedly lets his music do the talking, his policy since his earliest folkie days in Greenwich Village in 1961 and continuing it when he performed at the famous civil rights rally in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963. (Yes, that was when the Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his stirring "I have a Dream" oration.)
But Dylan has always kept his own counsel. As he sang on his "Street-Legal" album in 1978, "I have dined with kings/I've been offered wings/And I've never been too impressed," a reference to how Jimmy Carter deftly courted the young-people's vote in 1976 by quoting Dylan lyrics, notably "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," on which Dylan had sung: "And if my thought dreams cold be seen/They'd probably put me head in a guillotine." (Maybe Jimmy Carter didn't get quite that far when he perused the lyrics sheet.)
As people note Dylan's big birthday, let's remember his good work and fine example. He has been playing shows and making records now for 50 years, a testament to his longevity and a major accomplishment in itself. He has given us a lot. In return, let's give him our appreciation.
Jon Friedman writes the Media column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column.
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