In the 60s Bob Dylan's songs made him, whether intentionally or not, one of the faces of the anti-Vietnam War movement. Yet, even after the war ended, Dylan had not performed in Vietnam until today.
In front of 4,000 people at RMIT University in Ho Chi Minh City, Dylan played through a set that featured classics like "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" and "Highway 61 Revisited." While Dylan's legacy may be closely entwined with the country in the minds of the American public, few of Vietnam's actual residents are that familiar with the singer. Over half of Vietnam's population was born after the war. But for those whose were in Vietnam during the war, the performance had special resonance. "Bob Dylan's music opened up a path where music was used as a weapon to oppose the war in Vietnam and fight injustice and racism," said Tran Long An, vice president of the Vietnam Composers' Association, told the AP. "That was the big thing that he has done for music."
The performance in Vietnam comes at the same time as Dylan is being criticized heavily for performing in another Asian country: China. All week long Dylan has received jeers from the press and human rights organizations, like Human Rights Watch, who released a statement saying that, "Dylan should be ashamed of himself." And in case anyone thought the anti-Dylan parade was over, Maureen Dowd had this to say in today's edition of The New York Times:
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.
The reaction was unusually harsh, especially for someone viewed as a music legend. And The Atlantic's James Fallows has the viewpoints of several Chinese residents who disagree with the assessment of Dowd and others who viewed his Beijing performance as toothless. Regardless, Dylan's tour of Asia continues, heading next to Hong Kong and then Taipei. Afterwards he heads to Australia and New Zealand, two countries where he is unlikely to face scorn for visiting. But now that the flood gates are open, who knows?