Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
HAVE YOUR DONATION DOUBLED!

If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Shameless Descent of Bob Dylan

by DAVID YEARSLEY

Given the youth movement charged with energizing the Super Bowl’s non-football offerings—a trend embodied by Bruno Mars at this year’s halftime show—it was only fair that the old folks should make a counterattack in the ads, long held to be the true locus of entertainment value at the annual orgy of sex and violence, consumerism and military display.  Thus we were treated to the unsavory vision of Bob Dylan sliding into Chevrolet’s latest sedan and gurgling patriotic garbage about American pride above ambient guitar chords.

If not for the fussy make-up and hair-styling, one might have surmised—or at least hoped—that this one-time countercultural figurehead and voice of protest was not pitching Chrysler’s cars in a multi-million-dollar commercial, but was instead doing public service announcements for the last vestiges of American industry. Indeed, since there’s no way that Dylan needs the money, one could have been forgiven for assuming this was his gift to the American people, a gratis boost of confidence during a long stretch of crisis.

But Dylan had clearly cashed the check for this paean so mendacious that it achieved a melancholy far beyond and below that of “Song to Woody” or “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

That the spectacle was wrapped so tightly in cliché made it all the more depressing, from the opening line of unprecedented banality (“Is there anything more American than America?”) to the infantile stereotypes of its coda: “Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watches,” intoned the aged bard.  “Let Detroit make your cars.” Sandwiched in between were the grimmest two minutes of fakery in Super Bowl advertising history—platitudes delivered to shots of diners and steaming coffee; bucking broncos; cheerleaders; a Route 66 road sign; James Dean; Marilyn Monroe; Dr. J; Gordian knots of freeway interchanges; assembly line auto workers; defunct downtown Detroit; the ancient Dylan teetering into a guitar shop and leaning down to cast a rheumy eye at earlier photographs of himself, these images of the young sleek musician staring back at the babushka doll of today with even more disbelief than did his television audience. So surreal was this tableau that many viewers of a certain age must have thought that their Super Bowl party host had slipped LSD into the Bud.

The most encompassing of these concentric circles of lies was the nonsense Dylan spouted about how you can’t import true American cool or legacy or the heart and soul of American workers. Chrysler is owned by Fiat, not even Italian in any legal sense but soon to be incorporated in The Netherlands. That this transnational corporation was revivifying the Motor City was sadly laughable. Detroit has lost two-thirds of its population and even the street lights are being turned off in the most forsaken districts of the city. Dylan’s chords strummed on hypnotically, lulling reason to sleep amidst the blitz of banality.

American history is full of telling correspondances, watersheds that illuminate the drift of the country: Custer dies at Little Bighorn in 1876 one hundred years almost to the day after the American break with Britain. In the realm of music and politics, the end of World War II in Europe is announced all over the front page of New York Times of May 8th, 1945,  and tucked in among these headlines is an article that tells us that Aaron Copland has won the Pulitzer prize for Appalachian Spring—an optimistic musical accounting of American innocence as the nation emerges from the war as the world’s greatest Super Power.

Likewise Dylan’s shameless descent into Super Bowl madness was aired less than a week after the death of Pete Seeger, that rock of musical and moral integrity. The closest Seeger ever got to the Super Bowl was refusing former half-time show eruption, Madonna, the permission to cover his “If I Had Hammer” since, as Dave Marsh reported in CounterPunch she planned to change the words to “If I had a hammer / I’d smash your fuckin’ head in.” Maybe it’s a good thing that Pete wasn’t around to see and hear his former protégé, Dylan sell-out in such ridiculous fashion on the world stage.

A fictionalized version of the young Dylan makes a phantomy cameo at the close of the Coen brothers’ latest movie, Inside Llewyn Davis fortuitously—at least for the filmmakers—released earlier in the very month that Seeger died. Set mainly in the Greenwich Village of 1961, the film follows the couch-surfing, hitchhiking peregrinations of the eponymous main character, and the Brothers dutifully bathe the proceedings in forlorn grey-green light and allow space for capable performances of folk ballads by the singing, guitar-playing actor who stars, Oscar Isaac. Perhaps the most solipsistic of a long succession of studies in style, this Coen production is uncannily prescient about a strand of the American folk revival that ultimately follows Dylan to his Super Bowl debacle.

The Coens’ Llewyn Davis is a self-seeking, sexually irresponsible, childish brute, who cares only about himself.  Though there is talent and a dash of authenticity in what he does, Davis serves in the film merely as an object lesson in the truth that success, even celebrity, is bestowed almost randomly. While seeking out gigs and places to sleep, Davis participates in a studio session for some silly pseudo-hillbilly song, but is so desperate for cash and dismissive of the merits of the music he has just made that he signs away his claim on royalties.  In the course of the film’s week-long action, the song is already threatening to become a hit, leaving the impoverished Davis literally out in the cold. Butting repeatedly up against the brick wall of failure, Davis decides at last to go back to his job as a seaman, waving goodbye not only to his musical career but also America itself. At his Village folk-music haunt, the Gaslight, Davis gives a final heartfelt performance before heading out the door, beyond which is awaiting a brutal beating by the husband of a singer he had drunkenly heckled the night before.  As Davis leaves the club we hear and see in silhouette the next act, a gravelly voiced guitarist—Dylan himself—doing “Farewell,” his version of the “Leaving of Liverpool.”  With the passing of ships in the Greenwich Village night, the Coens try to squeeze a few drops of poignancy out of Davis’s defeat—though it’s hard to imagine why anyone would really care about his final exit from music history. More than that they want to evoke the magical, intimate moments before a star was born.

But the Coens captured a truth about Dylan and his collision course with the  Super Bowl: that for the right price humble beginnings can always be forgotten.

DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Bach’s Feet. He can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com

 

 

More articles by:

DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J. S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
October 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Clinton, Assange and the War on Truth
Michael Hudson
Socialism, Land and Banking: 2017 compared to 1917
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in the Life of CounterPunch
Paul Street
The Not-So-Radical “Socialist” From Vermont
Jason Hirthler
Censorship in the Digital Age
Jonathan Cook
Harvey Weinstein and the Politics of Hollywood
Andrew Levine
Diagnosing the Donald
Michelle Renee Matisons
Relocated Puerto Rican Families are Florida’s Latest Class War Targets
Richard Moser
Goldman Sachs vs. Goldman Sachs?
David Rosen
Male Sexual Violence: As American as Cherry Pie
Mike Whitney
John Brennan’s Police State USA
Robert Hunziker
Mr. Toxicity Zaps America
Peter Gelderloos
Catalan Independence and the Crisis of Democracy
Robert Fantina
Fatah, Hamas, Israel and the United States
Edward Curtin
Organized Chaos and Confusion as Political Control
Patrick Cockburn
The Transformation of Iraq: Kurds Have Lost 40% of Their Territory
CJ Hopkins
Tomorrow Belongs to the Corporatocracy
Bill Quigley
The Blueprint for the Most Radical City on the Planet
Brian Cloughley
Chinese Dreams and American Deaths in Africa
John Hultgren
Immigration and the American Political Imagination
Thomas Klikauer
Torturing the Poor, German-Style
Gerry Brown
China’s Elderly Statesmen
Pepe Escobar
Kirkuk Redux Was a Bloodless Offensive, Here’s Why
Jill Richardson
The Mundaneness of Sexual Violence
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Choreography of Human Dignity: Blade Runner 2049 and World War Z
Missy Comley Beattie
Bitch, Get Out!!
Andre Vltchek
The Greatest Indonesian Painter and “Praying to the Pig”
Ralph Nader
Why is Nobelist Economist Richard Thaler so Jovial?
Ricardo Vaz
Venezuela Regional Elections: Chavismo in Triumph, Opposition in Disarray and Media in Denial
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
NAFTA Talks Falter, Time To Increase Pressure
GD Dess
Why We Shouldn’t Let Hillary Haunt Us … And Why Having a Vision Matters
Ron Jacobs
Stop the Idiocy! Stop the Mattis-ness!
Russell Mokhiber
Talley Sergent Aaron Scheinberg Coca Cola Single Payer and the Failure of Democrats in West Virginia
Michael Barker
The Fiction of Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland”
Murray Dobbin
Yes, We Need to Tax the Rich
Dave Lindorff
Two Soviet Spies Who Deserve a Posthumous Nobel Peace Prize
Rafael Bernabe – Manuel Rodríguez Banchs
Open Letter to the People of the United States From Puerto Rico, a Month After Hurricane María
Oliver Tickell
#FreeJackLetts
Victor Grossman
From Jamaica to Knees
Michael Welton
Faith and the World: the Baha’i Vision
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Kirkuk the Consolation Prize?
Graham Peebles
Beyond Neo-Liberal Consumerism
Louis Proyect
On Gowans on Syria
Charles R. Larson
Review: Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden’s “Bible Nation: the United States of Hobby Lobby”
David Yearsley
Katy Perry’s Gastro-Pop, Gastro-Porn Orgy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail