Bob Dylan Blasts Critics in Rare Statement

Folk hero and protest-song pioneer calls out the media & sets the record straight about his shows in China.  

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud


For a man who never addresses his critics, never releases personal statements and, for all we know, had no idea the internet existed until recently, Bob Dylan has taken a remarkably defensive stand against the tirade of criticism and misinformation surrounding the legend's recent shows in China. 


Last month Dylan played his first concerts in mainland China, in Beijing on April 6 and in Shanghai on April 8. Though the Beijing included some of his classics, like “All Along the Watchtower,” Mr. Dylan did not play some of his best-known protest songs like “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” "Masters of War" and so on, leading some armchair psychics hand-wringing journalists to wonder if he was deliberately avoiding songs with clear political themes, at the request of the Chinese government.


As the world's press foamed at the mouth, calling the folk legend a traitor to the protest movement, claiming tickets were unfairly distributed and that his songs were censored by Chinese authorities, verifiable details began to seem slippery. And rightfully so: much of it was overhyped falsification. 


In an official open letter to his fans, the living icon met the criticism head on in a highly unprecedented manner. The long statement on his official website, which you can read in its entirety below, refuted all of the allegations against him, naming Britain’s Mojo magazine as one of the sources of great untruths. It defends Dylan's decision not to play his more incendiary songs in the oppressive nation, which the Rush Limbaughs of the American media undoubtedly equate with burning an American flag on foreign soil. 


Dylan's statement:


Allow me to clarify a couple of things about this so-called China controversy which has been going on for over a year. First of all, we were never denied permission to play in China. This was all drummed up by a Chinese promoter who was trying to get me to come there after playing Japan and Korea. My guess is that the guy printed up tickets and made promises to certain groups without any agreements being made. We had no intention of playing China at that time, and when it didn't happen most likely the promoter had to save face by issuing statements that the Chinese Ministry had refused permission for me to play there to get himself off the hook. If anybody had bothered to check with the Chinese authorities, it would have been clear that the Chinese authorities were unaware of the whole thing.


We did go there this year under a different promoter. According to Mojo magazine the concerts were attended mostly by ex-pats and there were a lot of empty seats. Not true. If anybody wants to check with any of the concert-goers they will see that it was mostly Chinese young people that came. Very few ex-pats if any. The ex-pats were mostly in Hong Kong not Beijing. Out of 13,000 seats we sold about 12,000 of them, and the rest of the tickets were given away to orphanages. The Chinese press did tout me as a sixties icon, however, and posted my picture all over the place with Joan Baez, Che Guevara, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The concert attendees probably wouldn't have known about any of those people. Regardless, they responded enthusiastically to the songs on my last 4 or 5 records. Ask anyone who was there. They were young and my feeling was that they wouldn't have known my early songs anyway.


As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There's no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous 3 months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play.


Everybody knows by now that there's a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I'm encouraging anybody who's ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.


Read the original statement at Dylan's official site