Outlaw Blues

As anyone who’s attended a Bob Dylan concert in the past decade knows, the man ain’t what he used to be. But it’s not just the music that’s changed (many fans complain that during shows Dylan alters the arrangements of his songs beyond all recognition); it’s also his thinking on the relationship between art and ...

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

As anyone who's attended a Bob Dylan concert in the past decade knows, the man ain't what he used to be. But it's not just the music that's changed (many fans complain that during shows Dylan alters the arrangements of his songs beyond all recognition); it's also his thinking on the relationship between art and commerce (read: "selling out").

But all the same, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for his fans with news that his upcoming East Asia tour has been cancelled following the cancellation of shows in Shanghai and Beijing.

Most media outlets have explained the cancellation as the result of Beijing's intervention. According to this narrative, Chinese government officials refused to grant Dylan permission to play in China because they feared the potentially subversive effects of his music on Chinese listeners.

As anyone who’s attended a Bob Dylan concert in the past decade knows, the man ain’t what he used to be. But it’s not just the music that’s changed (many fans complain that during shows Dylan alters the arrangements of his songs beyond all recognition); it’s also his thinking on the relationship between art and commerce (read: "selling out").

But all the same, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for his fans with news that his upcoming East Asia tour has been cancelled following the cancellation of shows in Shanghai and Beijing.

Most media outlets have explained the cancellation as the result of Beijing’s intervention. According to this narrative, Chinese government officials refused to grant Dylan permission to play in China because they feared the potentially subversive effects of his music on Chinese listeners.

While the dramatic appeal of this explanation is obvious — it rehabilitates Dylan’s protest singer-songwriter image, and imagines him as a poet-hero determined to challenge Beijing’s censorship and authoritarianism — as was the case with Google’s pullout from China, there might be a simpler, more cynical explanation to be had: greed.

According to a message sent from Zachary Mexico to James Fallow of The Atlantic,

The Chinese government did not deny Bob Dylan permission to play in China. It was the Taiwanese promoter’s outlandish financial requests that made the tour unrealistic."

While we’ll probably never know which explanation is correct, Mexico’s certainly seems to jive better with the fact that Dylan cancelled the entire tour rather than just the China shows.

Food for thought next time you’re considering another one of Dylan’s Greatest Hits album.

Peter Williams is an editorial researcher at FP.

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.