Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 15, 2014

Bob Dylan sells out — big time

Filed under: corruption,music — louisproyect @ 2:01 am

Counterpunch Weekend Edition February 14-16, 2014

For Pete’s Sake!

The Shameless Descent of Bob Dylan


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.”

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/14/the-shameless-descent-of-bob-dylan/


  1. Bullshit. What do you think the music business is, if not an industry milking “sell outs” to churn out “content” to constantly dazzle the masses momentarily, for the purposes of the big rake in.

    Would you have preferred Dylan had “not sold out” into a decrepit old age, and only plunked out his folky music in rustic backwaters to small coteries of capitalist failures and socialist millennialist cognoscenti? Would you really have paid such attention to Dylan is he had never become a highly popular entertainer — a star, i.e., rich and famous? I doubt it.

    It is so hypocritical to fall into pop music fandom — hero worship, star gazing and money envy — and then condemn the talented creators of your entertainment (from the corporate music industry machine) with having “fallen” from an imagined original state of virginal social purity. That fact that you finally realize it’s always been a business, and the “artists” are regular humans trying to “make bread” like everybody else does not make them “sell outs.” It just means you finally wised up.

    So what if Dylan got paid to sell Chryslers, he’s been getting paid to sell stuff since at least 1961. He’s not selling Iraq Wars or sugar toxic drinks and heart attack burgers. Yeah, making, selling and using cars are all part of the capitalist-climate extinction cycle, but that paradigm is universally adhered to — people love it, are wedded to it, and will never give it up — so within the grand logic bubble of world industrialization and the American economy, Dylan is “doing good,” for himself of course (as most would given the chance), and for promoting business in Detroit, which would help people who sorely need the jobs there. “Buy local,” right?

    Dylan is not the problem here. The problem is that you think you have reasons to object, and you enjoy the delusion of grandeur to imagine that anyone else should bother paying attention to your doing so.

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — February 15, 2014 @ 3:27 am

  2. He’s done worse.

    Comment by godoggo — February 15, 2014 @ 3:38 am

  3. Yeah, you can’t sit here and tell me in 2014 that Dylan sold out. Everybody in Greenwich Village said he sold out when he signed with Columbia in 1962. And I’m glad he did so that I could enjoy the remarkable social statements contained in “Freewheelin'” and “Times they are Changin'”. Everybody said he sold out again when he went electric in 1965. And I’m glad he did so that I could enjoy the poetry and humor and introspection contained in “Highway 61” and “Blonde on Blonde”. Come to think of it, it seems as if everyone has been consistently mad at Dylan since 1962 about something or another. I know I was after I first saw “Don’t look Back” and my vision of him as a great man and important moral voice was replaced with an immature, snarky, spoiled brat. But you know what? I still love him because he has consistently wrote great songs that capture the most eclectic aspects of American culture. What little remains.

    Comment by St.Paul — February 15, 2014 @ 4:49 am

  4. Sold out? A man who has for 50 years made, and continues to make, more millions of dollars each year than you can count, who’s intellectual property, in records alone, will earn untold future millions way beyond his own lifetime, a man who’s been playing to packed arenas nearly nonstop for so many years they’ve turned into decades… The Endless Tour… and a man who has made the greatest rock ‘n roll music of our times… are you kidding? Bob Dylan is in Show Business… that’s Show BUSINESS. What’s “wrong” with that, and what’s “wrong” about making a hefty paycheck for a silly commercial? Bob Dylan is not and never has been or ever wanted to be Pete Seeger. Lay off…

    Comment by Richard Greener — February 15, 2014 @ 5:07 am

  5. Here’s a commercial Dylan did for Victoria’s Secret back in 2004. http://www.youtube.com./watch?v=QsFrFQ-F64Y

    Comment by Chris Green — February 15, 2014 @ 6:30 am

  6. I teach hundreds of young people music and the name Bob Dylan never comes up. He is a generational pop singer who refused to learn how to sing, with no memorable melodies. He has a few nice lyrics. As his generation fades away so too will his music, much of which is ludicrously pompous in its artistic pretensions. I mean much of the stuff is just badly dated, be real.

    In 100 years he will have as much relevance as Tin Pan Alley does today. That’s the nature of pop music.

    Comment by purple — February 15, 2014 @ 8:13 am

  7. And even within that above context, Dylan has always seem like a misanthrope. The awful singing is just the most obvious aspect of how he likes sticking it to his audience. Many of his shows are just mumbling, he doesn’t even act like he cares. His lyrics even at their best, such as Like a Rolling Stone, reflect it as well.

    Comment by purple — February 15, 2014 @ 8:56 am

  8. Sorry, one final addition. Re: the end of the ad; “Let Asia assemble your phone” ? How much more insulting and racist can you get ?

    Also, scary. In that America is so divorced from what the rest of the world is doing. This country has become delusional. Let’s compare LaGuardia to the Beijing airport.

    Comment by purple — February 15, 2014 @ 9:16 am

  9. “Yeah, making, selling and using cars are all part of the capitalist-climate extinction cycle, but that paradigm is universally adhered to — people love it, are wedded to it, and will never give it up”

    Do “people” have much choice?

    Comment by George — February 15, 2014 @ 10:52 am

  10. As for Dylan, I think he is a genius songwriter and WAS a great singer – up until “Love and Theft” when his voice fell apart. As a political commentator he was tremendously astute in the early years – I’m thinking of “Only a Pawn in Their Game “and “Desolation Row”. But he never seemed very comfortable with taking direct action along with Baez and Seeger. And I remember reading about a time in the 60s when he was asked to appear in a protest march and said he would only do it if they changed the placards to various nonsense statements. He was clearly trying to distance himself from it – either from a sense of despair over the prospect of change or out of self-preservation. (I’d say he was – to say the least – uneasy over being seen as a dissident youth leader. Don’t forget the various assassinations at the time and the fact that Dylan was appearing before vast crowds and – yes – he was stoned out of his face mostly.) So he has a convenient motor cycle accident, disappears for a while and then turns up with a religiously flavoured album before going all country and western. Fast-forward ten tears and he’s a born again Christian railing against evil materialism, socialism, liberalism …… and Arabs. He was hardly the only dissident figure who eventually turned conservative. Except that I don’t think he was really that dissident in the first place.

    Comment by George — February 15, 2014 @ 11:57 am

  11. Bob Dylan’s vocal and songwriting abilities might have faded over the years but his memoir is truly great literature:


    I only wish he is able to complete part 2.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 15, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

  12. Purple, what a silly comment.Young musicians are constantly coming out with new covers of his songs. A quick google search failed to find a covers list that focused only on recent ones, but believe me there are many many many of them. I don’t know how old the “young people” you teach are, but I never really appreciated him til I was 18 (and no, I’m not a member of that generation). And tin pan alley is irrelevant? Christ. Do you also think there are no memorably melodies there?

    The chapter of his memoir covering the making Oh Mercy was pretty bad, but I enjoyed the rest of it.

    Comment by godoggo — February 15, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

  13. OK, “many many many” was probably excessive. But I’d say “a lot” wouldn’t be.

    Comment by godoggo — February 15, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

  14. I also think it’s important to point out that Dylan was never “part of” the Left. Not an any kind of organizational way. He was never in any position to “sell out”. He admired Woody Guthrie’s dichotomy of Bard and Activist but I think he admired more the tradition that Woody came out of. The “protest songs” that came from Dylan were just an imitation of that tradition that he admired. Dylan had very little political sense. He was not equipped to be the “voice of a generation”. Dylan was more interested in folklore and the myth of America. Always present in his music is a sense of history; a call back to a previous time. Woody Guthrie had a strong influence on Bob Dylan but so did Hank Williams.

    Comment by St.Paul — February 15, 2014 @ 3:29 pm

  15. I don’t think Dylan ever much cared about the political side of Woody Guthrie – the side that stuck “This Machine Kills Fascists” on a guitar. I can’t imagine Dylan ever discussing fascism. He only mentioned communism to say he never understood what it meant. He says this as late as Scorsese’s “No Direction Home” – which, I think, signals a very stubbornly held political naiveté. No – it was the other side of Guthrie that appealed to Dylan – the wild traveller who would just steal away on a train and reinvent himself somewhere out in the great unknown. And the obvious problem with that is what to do when there is no longer any unknown.

    Comment by George — February 15, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

  16. George best articulates the impression I took away from watching “No Direction Home”.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 16, 2014 @ 1:41 am

  17. It’s impossible for Dylan to sell out because he never opted in. In the 45 years I have followed him (off and on), I don’t ever recall that he characterized himself as either a socialist or anti-capitalist. He just wasn’t particularly political, although anti-prejudice is a theme that runs throughout his career. George Harrison wasn’t political either, but very religious. Still I like to hear “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something” on occasion. In the same way that I like to hear “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” and “Shelter From The Storm”, even if it is about the mother of Jesus.

    Comment by Dave — February 16, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

  18. Dave – I think the best comment on this obsession with “selling out” came from Simon Frith discussing David Bowie:

    “I know who Bowie’s sold out to; I don’t understand what he’s sold out from. Where is this authentic rock tradition, pose-less and glamour free? Elvis? The Beatles? No way. Dylan wasn’t a bootlace maker pulling himself up. They’re all pop stars, big business livery-chauffeured.”

    From what I know about Dylan he started out as a rock ‘n roll fan (definitely not capital “R” Rock – a label which Dylan never trusted.) He loved Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry etc. But the music scene was going through what Joni Mitchell described as that “dumb vanilla” phase when both herself and Dylan were starting to become active i.e. the new singers were those like Fabian Forte and Frankie Avalon – basically more groovy versions of the old crooners. So Dylan went folky. This wasn’t a cynical manoeuvre on his part – he was genuinely fascinated by that whole new world he discovered (though as I’ve already said, it was the personal reinvention side of it that appealed to him). But deep down he really loved the rock ‘n roll stuff so it makes sense that he changed his style when the Beatles took off.

    What all this means is that the radical side of the folk movement wasn’t something that was of primary importance to him. I suspect he always mistrusted it – although he contributed some of the most penetrating songs of that time. So – in a way the phrase “selling out” doesn‘t fit Dylan anyway – even in the more limited “rock star” sense. What I’m saying is that I think Dylan was always true to himself but others misunderstood him, taking him to be something that he wasn’t.

    Comment by George — February 16, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

  19. He’s an asshole who wrote some good songs.

    Comment by godoggo — February 16, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

  20. You know, like Llewyn Davis.

    Comment by godoggo — February 16, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

  21. An “asshole who wrote some good songs” is a much more economical way of saying what I said.

    Comment by George — February 16, 2014 @ 6:38 pm

  22. I’ve never understood the Counterpunch fascination with Dylan as evidenced by this article. Other than Springsteen, there are more articles posted there about him than any other musician, as opposed to something that would be more interesting from a contemporary perspective, as to why Occupy Oakland played Rhianna and Jay Z’s “Run this Town” before confrontations with the Oakland Police Department. Dylan was never a leftist, proclaimed himself Zionist and took money for corporate gigs years ago. For example, he performed for some Silicon Valley party about 10 years ago.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 16, 2014 @ 7:08 pm

  23. [It] was the other side of Guthrie that appealed to Dylan – the wild traveller who would just steal away on a train and reinvent himself somewhere out in the great unknown ….

    And that is a succinct definition of absolute bullshit. Woody Guthrie without the radicalism would not be worth more than a moment’s attention. IF he could be separated from the radicalism, which of course he couldn’t.

    Bob Dylan is one of the worst enemies the left in this country has ever had.

    Comment by Ed Macomb — February 16, 2014 @ 10:03 pm

  24. Woody Guthrie was a lot like Chuck Berry. Both were (and in the case of Berry, are) very good poets. Had Woody Guthrie not been political, he would have surfaced anyway to some level of prominence, just as the non-political Berry surfaced in the late 1950’s. Dylan’s first album was completely non-political, followed by a brief period of “political” folk songs, mainly dealing with the civil rights movement in the south and related themes. Had he not made these two socially relevant records he would have surfaced as well, because after the “Blowing in the Wind” period (for which there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the composer), he followed with such dull fare (sarcasm) as “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and “Tom Thumbs Blues”. Fact is, Bob Dylan is not political and therefore cannot be an enemy of any political tendency. He’s an artist is what he is.

    Comment by Dave — February 16, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

  25. Woody Guthrie was a lot like Chuck Berry

    Yes, in the same way that green is a lot like purple. They’re both colors, right?


    How does it ennoble Woody Guthrie to compare him to Chuck Berry? Or vice versa?

    The pop music of the fifties and sixties, which don’t get me wrong I like a lot, is nevertheless a fetish for pseudo-progressives who also cling to such delusions as the belief that Hilary Clinton would be a great president and think Jon Stewart is all ye need to know.

    This is as rational as falling in love with a shoelace or a half-eaten hamburger.

    What makes this pop-cult religion bullshit?

    The fact it conforms to and can only emerge from the small “t” transcendentalism that ever since the 60s has shipwrecked the U.S. left on the twin rocks of the personality cult on the one hand and the belief on the other hand that all politics begins and ends with an inner struggle and the achievement of Personal Superiority on the part of culture heroes.

    This is what enables Madison Avenue to come in on the coattails of every revolutionary development in this country and turn it into “edgy” commercials for the latest “edgy” yuppie lifestyle. It’s what enables web sites like The Raw Story, Truthout, and Salon to dominate left discourse among the masses and disrupt the growth of true left movements among the masses. It’s all about personalities; it’s all about the sovereign individual and his solitary triumph of the will.

    And I repeat, what you get if you separate Woody Guthrie from his politics is Bob Dylan, who is and has always been a foul-tempered and cynical reactionary.

    Comment by Bill Watson — February 17, 2014 @ 7:31 pm

  26. If you like Bob Dylan, (as I do) you like him, if you don’t, you don’t. Who cares, anyway?

    Comment by Dave — February 17, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

  27. Fun google search: “songs about Bob Dylan.” There are some wrong Minutemen lyrics floating around the net though, so I guess it’s on me to rectify the situation:

    i’m waitin’ in third person i’m collectin’ dispersin’ information labeled rations bob dylan wrote propaganda songs manifestoes are my windows and my proof locations and more rations outline my route bob dylan wrote propaganda songs

    Comment by godoggo — February 17, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

  28. Screw Dylan. Screw the Great American Automobile, the destroyer of civilized urban life.

    Check out the US Sochi coverage for a bellyfull of this country’s flavor of bullshit. Again it’s the bailed-out U.S. car companies – perhaps the biggest advertisers on US TV, where no criticism of the Almighty Auto is permitted, while the car ads routinely pitch to sociopathology on the road – that set the propaganda standard. Here they brag about “innovation” while trying to convince you that not being able to take a 4 week vacation is a good thing ‘cuz it “got America on the Moon” and other loony ideas:

    “2014 Cadillac ELR Coupe – Poolside Commercial”;

    Springsteen put on the shoes Dylan refused to fill. Don’t see him in any goddam car commercials – yet (got my fingers crossed).

    And yes they are all rich entertainers. And Engels was a capitalist. All the more reason they shouldn’t be seen in some shit Ain’t America Great Cause It’s At The Bottom Of The Gini List car commercial! If they are there, it’s because they BELIEVE in the BS.

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — February 18, 2014 @ 11:40 pm

  29. Hey Matt.

    In case you haven’t seen it you must watch: “Who Killed The Electric Car” circa 2004. Proyect even reviewed it. Bottom line is the Car Culture is as ingrained into the psyche of the masses as a symbol of freedom as is winning the Lotto so until the left overcomes those simple urges we’re all “pissing into the wind” — which could just as easily have been a hit Dylan or Springsteen song.

    Springsteen may be somebody’s “boss” but he ain’t mine.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 19, 2014 @ 12:13 am

  30. If you like Bob Dylan, (as I do) you like him, if you don’t, you don’t. Who cares, anyway?

    Cool, Dave. You are, like the Good Germans of legend, “not political.”

    Bob Dylan is one of the worst enemies the left in this country has had in fifty years. Period.

    If you don’t care about that, then you’re another one.

    End of discussion.

    Comment by Bill Watson — February 19, 2014 @ 2:55 am

  31. One of the things I got out of One Of The Worst Enemies The Left In This Country Has Had In Fifty Years Period’s memoirs was that it’s always seemed to me that Like A Rolling Stone had some structural similarities to Pirate Jenny and a few other Weill/Brecht tunes, so it was nice to learn that he actually did study that song pretty carefully.

    Comment by godoggo — February 19, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

  32. I’ve suggested that Dylan never really backed out of the protest movement because he was never committed to it in the first place. However his perceived retreat has had a bad influence. In Michael Gray’s book about Dylan, Song and Dance Man, I remember reading that Dylan became a more serious and profound artist when political pessimism set in. Whether political pessimism necessarily equates with profundity and seriousness is, to say the least, debatable. But I think that Gray’s outlook had a masked reactionary potential that others weren’t slow in following up i.e. they wanted to have their cake and eat it by saying that what they perceived as Dylan’s political retreat was really some kind of brave and new-fangled political advance. It’s a short step from this to the liberal platitude that “if you change yourself, you change the world”. And this is the kind of thinking that reckons it’s dangerous and radical to e.g. adopt an outrageous hairstyle. Which is good news for the cosmetic industry.

    Comment by George — February 19, 2014 @ 9:37 pm

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