Stephen Guy Hardin / May 3, 2011

Bobby Zimmerman Hits the Great Wall

In the real Communist China, not the Rainbow and Lollipop China of the newest version of The Karate Kid, the maze that is Chinese logic once again revealed itself in its uniquely mysterious way. In the week that Ai Weiwei, the artist and dissident political activist, was arrested, Bobby Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, was finally granted permission to play in Beijing.

Dylan, looking every bit as old as his 69 years, if not a little older and a little creepier, made sure he towed the official party line, while on stage during his brief tour of China. Going to great lengths in his efforts to adhere to the party line, Bob was every bit the house broken, circus performer that the Communists so admire in their entertainers.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of Dylan’s music from his earlier, relevant days. I’ve always liked John Wesley Harding, but my favorite is Blood On the Tracks. Just a great album. I even tried a couple of his mid-Eighties releases when he converted to Christianity, but his ship had sailed.

In the past twenty-five years Dylan’s concerts have become more notable for being consistently inconsistent then for being good. With more than the occasional, odd, on stage outburst of political and social irrelevance, Bob has built a checkered reputation for being unpredictable on stage. But on this tour Bob kept to the program and made sure he didn’t repeat Bjorks 2008 political faux pas, when during a performance in Shanghai she started chanting “Tibet! Tibet!”

Tibet, indeed.

Dylan had been originally scheduled to play Beijing and Shanghai last year, but the dates were canceled due to Dylan’s rigorous prostate exam schedule. But a repentant Chinese government and a note from Dylan’s proctologist paved the way for Bob to hit the Red stages this year. One could almost sense the collective national yawn at the news.

Of the many reasons given for the Communist about face was perhaps the most obvious. Bob Dylan just isn’t relevant anymore. The fact that Dylan would allow himself to be censored and controlled by the largest totalitarian and oppressive political regime in the world says it all.

As Dylan gingerly hobbled about onstage, alternately muttering, mouthing and humming his standards, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Tangled Up in Blue, Simple Twist of Fate, he also let loose with some more recent work, including, ‘Lovesick, Thunder on the Mountain, Beyond Here Lies Nothin.

But I digress.

I guess the days of little Bobby Zimmerman from Minnesota cavorting around, singing songs of peace, protest and religious confusion are over. When you start getting life insurance ads from AARP it’s time to start doubling down on your 401K contributions.

You can’t blame Bob for trying to hang onto his former fame, but it is rather disheartening to see him selling out the heritage of his youth for a paycheck.

How many Mercedes’ and beach houses does an aging hippie need?

It’s much the same feeling as watching Paul McCartney or Springsteen or a rehabbed Van Halen out on stage at the age when they should be passing out shopping carts at Wal-Mart. But considering what he once symbolized it’s still a tad depressing to watch as Bobby Zimmerman hits the great wall.

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