Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind

Maureen Dowd takes a whack at my fellow Duluth native Bob Dylan for “selling out” in China and not singing his trademark protest songs. I attended the Beijing concert. He could have been crooning anti-government rants and nobody would have known. In his best days he was hard to understand. Now he just grumbles and growls. From where I was sitting, it sounded like he was singing in Cantonese or Hakka. It was a great concert and great evening, however. He had an excellent band behind him, and it was interesting to see how many young Chinese people were in the audience and very familiar with his music.

Here is the beginning of Dowd’s piece, with a link below:

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.

Before Dylan was allowed to have his first concert in China on Wednesday at the Worker’s Gymnasium in Beijing, he ignored his own warning in “Subterranean Homesick Blues” — “Better stay away from those that carry around a fire hose” — and let the government pre-approve his set.

Iconic songs of revolution like “The Times They Are a-Changin,’ ” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” wouldn’t have been an appropriate soundtrack for the 2,000 Chinese apparatchiks in the audience taking a relaxing break from repression.

Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind –


About James McGregor
James McGregor is an American author, journalist and businessman who has lived in China for more than 25 years. Currently, he is chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China. A professional speaker and commentator who specializes in China’s business, politics and society, he regularly appears in the media to discuss China-related topics. McGregor is the author of the books "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism" (2012) and "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China" (2005). He also wrote the 2010 report "China’s Drive for ‘Indigenous Innovation’ – A Web of Industrial Policies." From 1987 to 1990 McGregor served as The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Taiwan, and from 1990 to 1994 as the paper’s bureau chief in Mainland China. From 1994 to 2000, he was chief executive of Dow Jones & Company in China. After leaving Dow Jones, he was China managing partner for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund specializing in the Chinese Internet and technology outsourcing. In 1996, McGregor was elected as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He also served for a decade as a governor of that organization. He is a member of the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on US-China Relations and International Council of the Asia Society. He serves on a variety of China-related advisory boards.

3 Responses to Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind

  1. Steve Barru says:

    I imagine a group aging men with pot bellies and jet black hair sitting in a smoke filled room discussing the potential dangers of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” It’s a silly image, but vetting 50 year old song lyrics for “bad ideas” is certainly even sillier. Of course, most of the heavy-handed repression of dissent going on today in China is anything but silly. It’s an ugly tragedy for its victims, and very discouraging for forward looking Chinese and for those of us from elsewhere who have been here a long time and hoped for more from China.

  2. Dave Lucas says:

    James, perhaps you’ll get a small chuckle from the photo I uploaded in a modest blog post critical of Dowd’s version of Dylan: please stop by my comments and leave your thoughts and a link to your article here!

  3. Boyce says:

    Last Saturday night, I walked past Club Latte — very close to Workers Gymnasium where Dylan played a few days before and better known for its brain-pounding bass beats — and the speakers outside were blasting Dylan songs, including The Times They Are a-Changin’. Unlike at the concert, you *could* make out all the words to the songs, but nobody seemed to care. Why would they when all that Chivas and green tea waited inside….

    Cheers, Boyce

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