As a self-proclaimed expert on Bob Dylan -- who made headlines this week, again, for SELLING OUT, with his two-minute Chrysler Super Bowl commercial -- I declare myself qualified to comment on the non-controversy.
I admit to being a bona fide Dylan nerd. Ask my family. I probably could qualify as a Dylan expert in a court of law, but this is the court of public opinion, the media, social and otherwise, that tweeted, posted, talked and wrote headlines like: “Bob Dylan’s Super Bowl commercial draws cries of sellout…”
I knew Dylan had done a Chrysler commercial for the Super Bowl (and another ad for yogurt featured “I Want You” and a hungry organic-loving bear), but the game was so one-sided and boring that I gave up and got jammied-up with a book before the commercial aired. But, since I’m part of several communities that study, admire and write about Dylan, I saw the commercial the next morning.
I loved it, of course, and posted it on my Facebook timeline. Not a surprise. I was surprised, however, surprisingly, that people still talk about Dylan SELLING OUT.
The commercial featured guitar music and a couple of sung lines from “Things Have Changed,” the Oscar-winning song from the movie, “Wonder Boys,” and one of my top favorites of Dylan’s. When I lost my “big, good” job in 2008, I quoted "Things Have Changed" ad nauseam, in particular: “People are crazy and times are strange. I’m locked in tight. I’m out of range. I used to care but things have changed.” But, I digress.
In the commercial, Dylan talked (and not Bob Speak but clear as a bell) about America... and cars, dreams and pride, all built in America. As scenes of the American road, baseball, kids, mothers and children and an auto assembly line flashed by, we saw a few flickers of young Dylan and other American icons. “You can’t import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line,” he said. And, “you can fake true cool.” He should know since he has been true cool for a long, long time.
A quick Google search reveals more than a dozen articles, opinion and otherwise, about the Dylan commercial, including from CNN, The New York Post, The Detroit Free Press and Houston Press. He was criticized for SELLING OUT, for the phrases, “let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car.”
Okay, some great beer gets brewed in America, so I get that one. And yes, Chrysler is now owned by Italian company Fiat. Still, the point of the commercial was Detroit and American-made cars, American workers, American pride. “What’s more American than America?”
A few years ago, Eminem did a similar Super Bowl commercial about his hometown of Detroit and I don’t recall a controversy or cries of SELLOUT. But then Slim Shady didn't sing as warm up for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or pen “Blowing In The Wind” either.
Dylan’s been accused of SELLING OUT so many times it’s a wonder this one even counts. (Or, to quote Dylan, “my back’s been to the wall so long it seems like it’s stuck. Why don’t you break my heart one more time, just for good luck.” (Summer Days, from Love and Theft album, 2001)
One of his most famous SELLOUTS was when he went electric with “Maggie’s Farm” (and then “Like a Rolling Stone”) at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. The audience jeered and yelled, and it’s said that Pete Seeger tried to pull the power plug. On the tour that followed, Dylan was met with shouts of “Judas” and boos so often that drummer Levon Helm (Dylan's back-up band would soon be THE BAND) couldn’t take it anymore, quit the tour and went to work on the Louisiana oil rigs instead.
Some called Dylan a SELLOUT when he went country, with “Nashville Skyline” and “John Wesley Harding,” and when he had the nerve to record in Nashville in 1966 for the wonderful “Blonde on Blonde” album.
Others called him a SELLOUT during his Christian phase in the early 1980s. I guess he was SELLING OUT for Jesus, after the Jewish Dylan famously converted to Christianity and recorded and sang only Christian music for several years – albums including “Shot of Love,” “Saved” and “Slow Train Coming” (recorded in Muscle Shoals and producing his only song Grammy, for “Gotta Serve Somebody,” another favorite, the Dylan nerd said.)
The SELLOUT lists goes on and on, through a half century of reinventions as the Minnesota native went from young genius folk singer to legendary singer-songwriter with a long list of honors, including a meeting with the Pope, an honorary Pulitzer, and in 2012, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dylan and his music are not new to commercial use. Kodak used “Forever Young” for a TV commercial years ago. I remember it from before I became a Bobcat.
Just within the last few months, Jeep used his recording of “Motherless Child” as background for a four-wheeling advertisement, and Target used a cover of “Forever Young” in a Christmas ad. He’s been in a Cadillac commercial, and the forever ladies’ man also sang “Love Sick” and appeared in a Victoria’s Secret commercial.
If I’d written only one of his hundreds of masterpiece songs, I’d sell the right to use it, in a minute. I'd have that choice. In fact, sorry, Bob, but I’ve quoted “Forever Young” ("May your hands always be busy. May your feet always be swift. May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift…”) so many times for milestones in the lives of people I love, (and in Facebook happy birthday messages to friends who will get the connection) that I probably owe him some money, too. But we’re good. I’m pretty sure.
As a writer, who has been paid, to one degree or another, for writing my whole life and who has a 100,000-word novel for sale as we speak, I don’t get the criticisms. It is his work, his music, his art. He can use it and his name and image however he chooses, and for someone in the business a half a century, he’s chosen pretty carefully.
When he put out his Christmas album, “Christmas in the Heart,” in 2009, Dylan chose to give all proceeds to Feeding America (U.S. sales) and internationally, to United Nations’ food programs. How about that for a SELLOUT.
A final criticism I heard about the Chrysler commercial, and this was more just talk among we Bobcats, that in it, Dylan looked younger than his 72 years. Has he had “work done”? or was it makeup? Who cares?
For an artist with 50 years in the business who tours almost constantly (he and his rocking band will be in Japan in late March into April), he still looks pretty good, still has his curly hair, trim profile and signature silhouette. He puts out a new album every year or so, for a total of 59 albums. So, give him a freaking break.
To me, he’s an American legend, and if he wants to SELL OUT and get paid $5 million to do a TV commercial about America and American-made cars, well then Bob, just don’t think twice, it’s alright.
Song of the day:
Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35, by Bob Dylan (1966, Blonde on Blonde)
“They’ll stone ya when you’re trying to make a buck
They stone ya, then they say ‘good luck’
They’ll stone ya when you’re riding in your car
They’ll stone ya when you’re playing your guitar
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned.”