Bob Dylan Ticks Off China and Joni Mitchell

Monday, 03 May 2010 02:42 PM

By Jon Friedman

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Even on the verge of his 69th birthday, Bob Dylan can still do what artistic icons should always try to do: Stir up trouble.

In the span of a mere few weeks, Dylan somehow managed to draw the ire of one of the great odd couples imaginable: the government of China and Joni Mitchell. Talk about seeing life from both sides now!

Dylan's request to give concerts in China, one of the few places where he has never appeared, was turned down. It's hard to know what really caused the rejection, but if the Chinese officials were afraid that Dylan represented an insurgent threat to the people, the effect would be more ironic than anything else.

Remember, Dylan's last official release was a Christmas album, in which he donated the proceeds to charity — hardly the work of a man intent on bringing down the Great Wall.

The Joni Mitchell affair, while even more mysterious, underscores Dylan's vitality. Mitchell called him a fake and a plagiarist and she called him out for changing his name to make it big in show business ("Dylan" had a better ring, apparently, than "Zimmerman," we can only surmise).

Why Joni attacked Dylan after all of these years is hard to figure out. Mitchell toured with Dylan during 1975's infamous Rolling Thunder Tour and the two have shared a bill since then, too — all, seemingly, without incident or acrimony. For Dylan, the provocation is one more chapter in a life filled with controversies.

Dylan has made a career out of confounding and infuriating fans and critics alike. He adopted protest music. He abandoned folk music for rock 'n' roll. He became a born-again Christian. He has lived more lives than almost anybody else on the popular music scene.

I think it's wonderful that a man who will turn 70 years old in about year can still find interesting ways to tick people off. I only wish that the young recording stars and Hollywood ingénues could do the same instead of churning out such pap.

It's all a testimony to Dylan's remarkable staying power in a nearly 50-year career.

Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column.


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