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Cut Bob Dylan Some Slack for His Weird-Ass Super Bowl Commercial . . . But Not That Much

Folk rock legend and Chrysler pitchman Bob Dylan.
Folk rock legend and Chrysler pitchman Bob Dylan.
Columbia Records

God forbid someone call me out on the things I said with the utmost seriousness in my early 20s, the things I drew the hardest of lines on: the person I'd never be, the things I'd never do, and so on. Who can live up to that?

And, more to the point perhaps, why do the same to someone like Bob Dylan?

Call it recording technology's most baffling "problem": the strange, beautiful, and irreplaceable way it collapses time. It's entirely possible that you began your Sunday hearing Dylan admonish that "money doesn't talk, it swears" from Bringing It All Back Home's "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" and ended it by seeing him spit nonsense like "Is there anything more American than America?"

And even if your mind knows better -- knows that Dylan wrote that first line almost 50 years ago, when he was only 23 years old -- hearing them so close together makes it hard not to feel that Dylan's something of a hypocrite, that he's saying one thing and doing another. But some slack ought to be given: As Dylan himself says in the ad's closing, things have changed.

With that said, it's not hard to be disappointed to see Dylan shilling automobiles on a stage as large as the commercials accompanying the Super Bowl. Even though he was selling bras for Victoria's Secret just a few short years ago, this seems an especially ill-advised step, one that might even halt, just a little, the unrelenting praise heaped upon his middling latter-day records.  

Cut Bob Dylan Some Slack for His Weird-Ass Super Bowl Commercial . . . But Not That Much
YouTube via Chrysler

Don't get me wrong: I love the idea that the ad is interested in highlighting the people who work to make the products we buy instead of the product itself, and I especially like that it's a Rust Belt city saying, "We've got something to offer and, you know what: Detroit needn't be a punch line any longer." But like the foreign-made bric-a-brac the advertisement implicitly derides, the whole thing feels cheap: its mawkish jingoism, its horses-and-cowboy-hats-and-old-dudes-ordering-coffee-in-diners version of America™.

I can appreciate other writers' attempts to point out that Chrysler is a wholly owned subsidiary of Italian automaker Fiat, but even that's beside the point; where the company is owned doesn't change the fact that Chrysler does, of course, make its cars in America and employs American workers. And though Dylan largely has been apolitical throughout most of his career (Rubin "Hurricane" Carter is more the exception than the rule), it's cool to see him standing firmly in America's corner.

But he stands in it so awkwardly. Eminem seemed the better fit -- and not just because of the Detroit connection. That ad, the longest in Super Bowl history at the time, seemed to have so much more say about Detroit and its people, whereas Dylan's is its watered-down cousin: ideologically vague, its teeth removed, its spokesman inevitably drawing comparisons between the beliefs he once (or at least seemed to) espouse, and the man he is today, however unfair that comparison might be.

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