If there was a bigger loser than the Denver Broncos Sunday, it was Bob Dylan.
I stopped caring about the Super Bowl long ago, but floated in and out of the broadcast, seeing maybe five minutes in all. Two of those minutes featured Dylan shilling for Chrysler. Gauging by my initial reaction and that of many music fans and aging hippies, the former Mr. Zimmerman appeared to have confirmed the lyrics of his song “Gotta Serve Somebody,” the chorus of which says:
“You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
In the commercial Dylan said, “So let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car.” Apparently, someone forgot to tell the man who just 10 years ago Newsweek magazine called “the most influential cultural figure now alive” that Chrysler LLC is now wholly owned by Fiat, an Italian company.
I suppose it was the still-potent hangover from the idealism of the ’60s that made me and so many others my age cringe when Dylan appeared onscreen. We expected more from him.
For example, in 1965 Dylan was booed by purists at the Newport Folk Festival for having the temerity to use electric instruments at what was viewed as an exclusively acoustic festival (although for unknown reasons fans had no problem with artists using an electric PA system). He sloughed off the criticism. Dylan had guts enough then to go against the grain, just as he had flown in the face of the establishment with songs such as “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”
I’m no purist. I never thought Dylan sold out at Newport. Rather, I always felt he used electric instruments in an effort to escape the “folk singer” pigeonhole into which he was thrust by music critics … and because that’s the sound he wanted. Besides, who are we to dictate the medium through which an artist presents his work?
Neither am I naïve. I understand that money lubricates the wheels of fame. Heck, Ringo Starr has done commercials for Pizza Hut. And even Johnny Cash – a prototypical bad boy – did TV ads for Lionel Trains and the American Oil Co. back in the 1970s, about the same time Jimmy Dean was hyping his eponymous pure pork sausage.
After a few days’ reflection, part of me thinks that perhaps we overreacted to Dylan’s spot. Maybe he really likes Chrysler products – at least as much as Ringo likes Pizza Hut slices. Dylan appeared in a Victoria’s Secret commercial in 2004; did anyone accuse him of wearing women’s underwear? Moreover, Dylan’s song “I Want You” was used in a commercial for Chobani Greek yogurt during the game Sunday, but that seems to have raised few, if any, hackles.
Why did we have such a negative reaction to Dylan’s Chrysler blurb? I’m still not sure.
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.