As you may have heard, a two minute television commercial featuring Bob Dylan aired during the Super Bowl. Then came the aftermath, with dozens and dozens of articles of everyone giving their opinion. Bob Dylan sold out. Or didn’t. Or his fans are delusional.
The following words were all taken from actual headlines: Sell out? Help out? He’s a car salesman. He’s a genius. It was one of the best, or one of the worst. A success. A disappointment. It’s disturbing.
To me, people are missing the point. Not Dylan’s supposed “statement.” It is about the sad state of journalism.
I believe it was Warren Zevon who said, “Once you sign with a record label, you shake hands with the devil.” Dylan “sold out,” if you will, more than 50 years ago, when he signed with Columbia Records. Then he went electric. SELL OUT! He did a print ad for Fender guitars. SELL OUT! He’s writing a book. SELL OUT! He’s gone country. SELL OUT! The Rolling Thunder Revue is playing arenas. SELL OUT! He licensed his songs for a TV ad. SELL OUT! His song is in a Victoria’s Secret ad. SELL OUT! He’s doing a Victoria’s Secret ad. SELL OUT! He’s in a Cadillac ad, and promoting it on “Theme Time Radio Hour.” SELL OUT! He “made” a video for 1965's “Like A Rolling Stone” in 2013 to promote an expensive box set. SELL OUT!
However, it doesn’t stop there. Dylan’s been accused of “selling out,” even when he hadn’t done anything. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the NME, the Telegraph U.K., and plenty of other publications and blogs weighed in when Dylan shared a “secret” on his radio show: He was planning on being a GPS “voice.” Of course, it was a joke, but why bother checking your sources? Just regurgitate what someone else had already printed. Let’s all have a laugh at Dylan’s expense. How about Dylan allowing himself to be censored when he played China? It never happened, but it didn’t stop the blogosphere from giving their opinions, or Maureen Dowd of the New York Times taking Dylan to task for not singing the songs she thought he should, like “Hurricane,” which had not been performed in 35 years.
Plagiarism accusations have also plagued Dylan since the days of “Blowin’ In The Wind,” if not before. Of course, there have been cases made that many people don’t even understand what constitutes plagiarism, but some would rather surmise that Dylan “steals,” instead of doing the research. Most real artists and educated critics know better, but why bother listening to them?
The Chrysler non-controversy is not about Dylan. Since there was no Kardashian wedding or divorce this week (I don’t think), Dylan was fair game. Just the idea of Dylan appearing in a commercial made people salivate in front of their keyboards. These days, you don’t need things like “facts” to post something on the internet. Just give your knee-jerk reaction. The important thing is that you generate traffic to your website.
Everybody’s trying to make a buck these days, and the world of journalism is no different. In order to survive in the internet age, newspapers and magazines need to get people to read their content so they can let their sponsors - their bread and butter - know their ad is being “viewed.” With the recent revolutions in technology, anybody can give an immediate opinion, informed or otherwise, from the Wall Street Journal to someone blogging away in his mother’s basement surrounded by empty pizza boxes, that can be accessed on a phone, and they are all vying for your attention. That’s the way journalism promotion works now.
Most people posting about Dylan “selling out” just want attention. Of course, some articles are informed and sincere, but so many are just ridiculously devoid of any sense of anything other than wanting to feel important. So people will click on the link to either get a seat on the J’accuse train, or to express their indignation.
The main point is this: If you’ve been a Dylan fan since the 1960s or 70s, you’ve probably moved on with your life, and if you are outraged by Dylan “selling out” to some ideals to which he never really subscribed, you haven’t been paying attention. If you are younger, and have got into Dylan over the past few decades, those ideals are something you’ve heard about from a history book, or Wikipedia.
The Chrysler Super Bowl commercial was made to promote Detroit, and American cars, starring an American artist. So what if Chrysler is owned by Fiat, or some of Dylan’s words came across as jingoistic? It’s a two minute television commercial, for crying out loud. Let’s all go online and point out little inconsistencies to show how superior we are to Bob Dylan. Imagine, someone’s 50 year old image of an idealistic folk singer has been crushed. Wait until they hear “LIke A Rolling Stone”!
What about those respected journalists accusing Dylan of “selling out?” Did they go to college to study journalism? SELL OUT! Do they get paid for their work? SELL OUT! Do they only write about what want? No? SELL OUT! Why aren’t they focusing on all the real problems of the world instead of this nonsense? SELL OUT!
If you say Dylan is going north, he will head east, or southwest. He may even eventually end up somewhere up north, but his internal compass will lead him though a journey you could not even have imagined. Then, as an artist, he’ll share that experience with you. Don't bother to figure him out. Even his memoir, Chronicles, is full of inaccurracies. You don't even know him.
Dylan was allegedly paid $5 million for the ad. What did he do with the money? Maybe he kept it, maybe he didn’t. Dylan’s been known to secretly give to many tax-deductible charity organizations.
The real cool thing about the ad, however, is that the guitar showcased in the commercial may have been a new signature Bob Dylan Gibson SJ-200 model. And the Chrysler 200 paid for it. Nice one, Bob.
U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
(Thanks to Andrew Klewan.)
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