Poor Pete Seeger. Not even dead a week, and he’s already rolling over in his grave.
The thing that’s got Pete spinning is this remarkable commercial for Chrysler, aired during yesterday’s Super Bowl, and starring the one and only Bob Dylan.
In the middle of a dreary game punctuated with subpar advertising, the Chrysler ad was a standout. It was nothing less than a love song to America, with the evocative chords of Dylan’s own “Things Have Changed” creating the sonic backdrop to a parade of iconic, national images. Dylan then speaks, with obvious conviction, about cars, the open road, and American character.
You can’t import original; you can’t fake true cool; you can’t duplicate legacy….
Detroit made cars, and cars made America. 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.
Because we believe in the zoom, and the roar, and the thrust. And when it’s made here, it’s made with the one thing you can’t get from anyone else: American pride.
This elaborate windup is followed by the product pitch, a hard fastball right down the middle of the plate:
So let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. (dramatic pause, to allow Dylan to walk to the end of a pool table and take a shot)
WE…will build…your car.
Unequivocal nationalism and an earnest paean to American capitalism…from countercultural hero Bob Dylan?
Don’t act so surprised. Dylan has always been an American patriot. He never bashed his country during the America bashing orgy of the Sixties. He’s also written scathingly about the counterculture of that era in his autobiography Chronicles Volume 1. His opinion of the radicals and hippies journeying to his Woodstock, NY home is pungently summarized in the deathless phrase: “I wanted to set fire to these people.”
Pete Seeger would have never said that. Those were his people, along with tyrants like Stalin, Mao, Castro and even Hitler, before he broke his pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. Seeger, you see, was a dyed-in-the wool, unapologetic Communist. His faith in worldwide revolution never wavered. He could overlook a few million dead bodies to support the cause but hated capitalism passionately. The fact that his friend, and erstwhile protégé, is now making jingoistic, buy American appeals for corporate fat cats would really get him riled.
It wouldn’t be the first time. Seeger was so outraged when Dylan “went electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he reportedly wanted to cut the cables to the amplifiers. Ideological purity often trumped free expression – and freedom itself – in Seeger’s world.
Thankfully Dylan himself is a true free spirit and American original. His Chrysler commercial is a classic. In time, it may be remembered as one of the best Super Bowl spots, almost as striking and unexpected as Apple’s “1984” ad. It’s also fitting contribution to Dylan’s singular body of work.
Who ever thought sly, knowing Bob Dylan would make a compelling product pitchman? If he gets to tout America to help make the sale, maybe it’s not such a surprise.