One of Bob Dylan's most famous lines was, "Don't follow leaders."
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times columnist who slammed Dylan in print, should listen over and over to that idea. Dowd slammed Dylan for allegedly allowing himself to be censored when he performed last week in China. Dowd never quite confirmed this bulletin to my satisfaction, as a reader and Dylan fan, but she criticized Dylan, anyway. But She was way off.
I should know. I'm writing a book about Dylan now, and I've studied him in great detail. I know more than ever that Dylan doesn't belong to anyone — not to me or you or Dowd. Dylan has his head and heart in the right place.
Dowd should've realized that Dylan had made a substantial political statement by opening his China show with "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking," a radical expression of free will in its own right.
Dylan also made a point of singing "Ballad of a Thin Man," one of his admired songs, from 1965. It has the immortal refrain, "Something is happening here, and you don't know what it is — do you, Mr. Jones?"
That just about says it all.
Dylan turns 70 years old on May 24. He shouldn't have to defend himself against any critic. He has helped change society with his words, intelligence and wit — a noble achievement by any standard.
He seldom responds to criticism or calls by his fans and friends to lead the revolution. Since the early '60s, "fans" have called on Dylan to act like a leader or a spokesman. But he sensibly recognizes that he best serves the American scene as an artist, not a politician, and it is best to let the work speak for itself.
If Dylan ever decided to answer the barbs, he could sing the opening line to his great song "Positively Fourth Street." The line goes: "You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend."
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column.
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