It would be hard to be a less-qualified critic of Bob Dylan than Maureen Dowd. She’s within her rights to criticize Dylan for appearing in China and agreeing to have his set-list pre-approved, but she goes far beyond that to explicitly call him a sell-out in every area of his career. She pulls out quotes to suggest that Dylan only played folk-music to make a living, that he didn’t represent the counterculture of the 60’s, and that he didn’t really mean any of the anti-establishment things that he wrote.
Bob Dylan has said a lot of things. He’s a bitter man in many ways. Dowd should have known that from reading his lyrics. Has she never read the lyrics to Like A Rolling Stone or You’re a Big Girl Now or Just Like a Woman?
Dylan’s not a saint. But he is America’s master wordsmith. He may have complained about being “anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion, High Priest of Protest, the Czar of Dissent,” but that is exactly what he has been for the last 50 years. So, he doesn’t want to be your monkey performing The Times They Are A-Changing for the forty-millionth time. Show me someone today who is capable of writing such a song.
Dylan doesn’t have to sing songs of rebellion to be subversive. His entire existence is subversive. And Dowd doesn’t understand any of it.
Bob Dylan may have done the impossible: broken creative new ground in selling out.
The idea that the raspy troubadour of ’60s freedom anthems would go to a dictatorship and not sing those anthems is a whole new kind of sellout — even worse than Beyoncé, Mariah and Usher collecting millions to croon to Qaddafi’s family, or Elton John raking in a fortune to serenade gay-bashers at Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wedding.
I think Dylan would respond, It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding:
While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him
While one who sings with h[er] tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That [s]he’s in
But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please h[er]
Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony
When Dowd shows that she understands that Dylan was singing about people like her and her peers, she’ll be qualified to criticize Bob Dylan’s career and art.