Free Bob Dylan

This Slate piece by Ron Rosenbaum on the cult of Bob Dylan, musical politics in China, and the neverending mystery of the man is one of the best pieces of music writing I’ve heard in a long time.
Here’s a taste:

And then they twisted themselves into pretzel-like contradictions: Dylan was never really a protest singer anyway; he only faked being one early in his career to get a leg up the ladder of fame from the folkies then fashionable when he arrived in New York at the beginning of the ’60s. So he shouldn’t have been expected to do anything confrontational in China; he was, like, above mundane political considerations.
Great defense! They’re saying—his defenders!—that he was a scheming careerist liar. (Do they really believe the emotion in that beautiful ballad “Song to Woody” was all faked?) But he’s Dylan so it’s OK.
What’s amusing is that they’re willing to accept his explanation that he was never sincere in the first place politically so he shouldn’t be bothered by it now. Don’t they realize that this itself could be insincere. That he might be insincere in his protestations of insincerity about his protest songs? They’re just such suckers for anything that issues from Bob’s mouth they don’t know when or whether they’ve been conned by one of the great put-on artists.
Still you have to love Dylan for creating all the mystery—and for that immortal line from the disclaimer-of-sincerity period when the folkies were on his case: “Folk music is a bunch of fat people.”
But if Dylan was never really a protest singer, how can you claim at the same time that his songs, whatever he played, had the effect of a powerful protest on the Chinese torturers? Oh, and one of the most peculiar Bobolator defenses was that he really didn’t, as Maureen Dowd implied, inspire anti-Vietnam War protesters with his music because, despite all the anti-war songs Maureen Dowd wanted him to play, like “Masters of War,” he wasn’t really against the Vietnam War! It may be true: The entire Vietnam protest movement was mistaken if they took any inspiration from him. They had the wrong exegesis!

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