Posted by: gdevi | February 16, 2014

Bob Dylan and American Cars: “I have been walking forty miles of bad road”

I have never watched a superbowl game ever, and I didn’t this year as well. American football is like Fencing to me; I cannot watch any sport where you cannot see the faces of the athletes. So I have never watched football and I never will.  I like baseball, basketball and softball. Since I am generally completely out of touch with pop culture, I did not know about Bob Dylan’s Chrysler superbowl commercial until I read about it here. It is a censorious op ed; it excoriates Bob Dylan as a sell-out to the worst form of American patriotism and what the author calls “neo-liberal fascism.” But I think the writer wrote too soon.

I was thinking about Bob Dylan and Zeitgeist the whole day yesterday after I read this article. I watched the commercial too. It is a bad commercial. Car commercials are usually very unaesthetic, but this one even more so. Bob Dylan looks strange; his voice even more so. If no one had pointed it to me, I would not have thought that it was the voice of Bob Dylan.

You can watch the commercial here. The text of the commercial is very interesting. Commercials like this work with the juxtaposition of words and images. Bob Dylan’s words and the images work against each other, except for one or two non-tendentious instances.

Words: “Is there anything more American than America?”

Image: We see a lot of flags. Flags flags and more flags. A woman wrapped in flag. Homecooking Diner. The waiter serves and the customer smirks.

Comment: Fairly insipid statement. A tautology, in fact. “Is there anything more black than black?

Words: “Because you can’t import an original.”

Image: Rollercoasters. Basketball. Baseball. Marilyn Monroe.

Comment: These are terrifically interesting image choices. You can write a whole paper on it. Simply put: I like that Basketball and Baseball are used as “the original” at a football fiesta. I like the Hollywood image. Hollywood is the original.

Words: “You can’t fake true cool.”

Image: James Dean and some black leathered motorcycle guy.

Comment: Again, you can write a whole paper on these images. We should note the Hollywood image.

Words: “You can’t duplicate legacy.”

Image: Tattoo of Rosie the Riveter. World War Two image of Rosie the Riveter. We Can Do It poster

Comment: Women who worked in the factories during the war to We Can Do It poster to We Can Do It tattoo. Yes, you can duplicate legacy.

Words: “Because what Detroit Created was First and became an Inspiration to the Rest of the World.”

Image: Highways and mixmasters. Autobahn Katschberg.

Comment: This image is particularly interesting in a subversive way. President Eisenhower is called the “Father of the Interstate System” because he signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. One of the biggest influences on President Eisenhower in order to put federal money in building great roads that connected the entire country was his experience during the war in Germany and France where he personally experienced the benefits of the tightly structured Autobahns (German for Motorways) in moving vehicles and supplies between posts in the front. In his book At Ease, the president wrote: “The old convoy had me thinking about good, two-lane highways; but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.”

Words: “Yeah, Detroit made cars and cars made America.”

Image: Detroit factory images; assembly lines.

Words: “Making the best, Making the Finest takes conviction.”

Image: Faces of men and women; woman with child, rodeo player

Words: “And You can’t import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line.”

Images: More images of workers in a factory.

Comment: Not tendentious at all.

Words: “You can search the world over for the finer things but you won’t find a match for the American road and the creatures that live on it”

Image: Bob Dylan in a guitar store; Bob Dylan looking at this own albums in a place; woman in the passenger seat of a car, and a young girl by the side of a road — “creatures that live on it.”

Words: “Because we believe in the zoom and the roar and the thrust.”

Image: tunnels, city scapes, views of Detroit river?

Words: “And when it is made here it is made with the one thing you cannot import from anywhere else. ”

Image: White woman with child.

Words: “American pride.”

Image: Black man.

Comment: Not tendentious at all.

Words: “So Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your Phones. ”

Image: Beer brewing, watch making, phone assembling

Words” “We will build your car.”

Image: Bob Dylan playing pool. A whole bunch of men standing pushed back against the wall.

Comment: Big decisions are made when you are playing pool. Stand back!

Musical Text: “Things have changed. ”

Comment: This is not “Times They are a-Changing.” This is the song of utter disillusionment from Modern Times. You should check out the original music video here. It intercuts scenes from that wonderful wonderful movie Wonderboys with Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand and Tobey McGuire. It is one of my favorite movies. Great views of Pittsburgh, my favorite city. Indeed, towards the end of the music video, Bob Dylan morphs into the Michael Douglas character. It is a great story and a terrific film.  Read the lyrics here.

Why anyone would see this commercial and interpret it as Bob Dylan selling out is beyond me. Just as he has always done, Bob Dylan is an accurate barometer for the changing zeitgeist of our times. And boy, has he suffered for that.This op ed is simply the latest example.

This song reflects the abyss into which we, as a society, have fallen. This commercial is not a sell-out at all. This 72 year old man has no need to sell-out to anyone or anything. He does not need the money. He does not need the audience. He does not need anything from you or me. Or Chrysler or Cadillac–remember, he did a Cadillac commercial too. This commercial makes evident all the layers and layers of bullshit under which we live as a society.This is Bob Dylan at his most Bob Dylanish moment.


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