Vicky n Bob

(I just want you to know that I can see through your BASQUES)


I’m somewhat amazed at the amount of press reaction Bob’s recent advert for Victoria’s Secret has generated, especially in the States, where the wonders of the internet have allowed me to print out reports from what seems like dozens of horrified hacks, all throwing their hands up in the air and crying about how Bob had “sold out” (hmmm.. ..there’s a new one) and - more importantly - let us down (ditto). When they say that he’s let us down, I assume they really mean that he’s let them down, since - if they are including me amongst the “us”, which I guess they are - they have no idea about how I feel about the matter, nor how any of you reading this feel about it, come to that. I say that I’m “somewhat amazed” because, let,s face it, these writers and critics always seem to get steamed up most about what matters least. Where were the voices of dissent a decade ago when Bob effectively allowed himself to be publicly castrated on prime-time television for the Unplugged show? Where were the raised voices of horror when, for instance, we were presented with a truncated version of With God On Our Side that neatly lost it’s most powerful verse - that of the Holocaust - along with any reference to early 1960s paranoia (“I've learned to hate Russians”). Who pulled Dylan’s teeth that night and why did Dylan let them pull them? As I wrote at the time, the 1960s Bob Dylan would have refused to perform under such censorship - the 1990s Bob Dylan was a different creature. The 1960s Bob Dylan would have played what he wanted or not played at all. The 1990s Bob Dylan, who wanted to play a set of traditional numbers, was told exactly what to play and, it seems, (and this is worse) exactly how to play it. I remember Jeff Stevens once referring to the “dumbing down” of Bob Dylan. Maybe it started right there at the Unplugged recordings. Or maybe it started a whole decade earlier at the 1984 Grammy Awards, where his comedy routine with Stevie Wonder did not give Morecombe And Wise a run for their money (hell - it didn't even give The Crankies a run for their money). Anyway, I digress. Or maybe I don’t, because this latest advert is merely part of the same dumbing down process that Jeff wrote about in reaction to - I think - the Things Have Changed video. 

This isn’t, after all, the first time Dylan has allowed his songs to be used in advertising (remember a similar furore when he sold Times to an accounting firm in – there’s that year again - 1994, and then even let the Bank of Montreal use a song to promote it’s wares a couple of years later?) or even the first time he’s allowed his face to be used to sell something (a Blonde On Blonde Bob promoting computers a few years back. If people say that he isn't usually associated with women’s underwear, since when has he been associated with state-of-the-art computers, of all things??) so why is the media getting so hot and bothered this time around? It seems to me that people are still confusing the Bob Dylan of the late 20th century/early 21st century with the Bob Dylan of the 1960s, and the early 1960s at that. By the beginning of the 1970s - 1975 and 1979/80 notwithstanding - much of what he has done has been for maximum profit. There's nothing wrong with this - everybody does it; you, me, Ricky Gervais, John Lydon, Jack Nicholson – it’s just that the popular (mis)conception of Dylan seems to be of a starving artist in his attic, refusing to sell his soul or his art for a lousy buck, refusing to abandon his ideals of the 1960s - ideals that, in reality, he probably began abandoning himself by 1965. 

What Dylan is doing now is the natural continuation of that abandonment, a natural continuation of, say, appearing on Dharma And Greg, appearing at Woodstock 2 (1994 yet again! Can we see a theory forming, people?), agreeing to the idea and principle of BobFest, helping to sell Canadian banks, playing corporate gigs, etc. etc. We either begrudge him his money or we don’t and, either way, it has absolutely nothing to do with us. His image, his reputation, is beyond any lasting damage anyway. In the decades and centuries to come, he will be remembered for A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Chimes Of Freedom, Blood On The Tracks and a hundred other good things, not for an advert for ladies skivvies. Just as he will be remembered for Manchester 1966 and not for Hammersmith Odeon 1991. 

As to why he did it - money aside (and if you believe his “spokesman” saying that money was not a motivation, then you probably believe that Elvis is stacking shelves in Tescos in Romford and that God didn’t make little green apples and that it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summer time) - well, look at it from his point of view. He’s a 63 year-old man with a history of chasing after (and usually catching) the women. Even if he doesn’t indulge in such activities nowadays, the chances are that the spirit is still willing. Suddenly, he gets an offer to spend a few days in Venice alongside a top model who is going to be wearing little more than a piece of dental-floss and a pair of angel wings. On top of that, the company making the offer are going to offload shitloads of money onto him as payment for having to spend a few days in Venice alongside aforementioned top model in floss and feathers and also sell a compilation of his songs in all of their shops throughout the US of A. Is it just me, or is that not the best job in the world, save for being Britney Spears’ personal masseur? Is that not a win-win situation? Appearing in one measly advert hardly makes him some kind of media whore and I think it’ll be a while before he begins turning up on whatever the American version of Celebrity Big Brother happens to be. 

A different theory, one that appears to have begun on - where else? - the internet, is that Dylan is supplying the punch line to a 40 year-old joke. At the 1965 San Francisco press conference he said that, if he had to get into another business, then it would be “ladies garments”. True, and perhaps Dylan does remember saying that, or has recently listened to a bootleg, but it seems an awfully long while to wait to deliver the punch line to a joke that didn’t really need a punch line anyway, especially not one quite so literal. Anyway, to the best of my recollection, at the same press conference he also said that (a) he had formed his own political party, (b) he was a song and dance man and (c) that he was about to make a movie in which he was going to play his own mother. Considering that (a) he hadn't, (b) he wasn't and (c) he didn't, why should he think that it was worth pursuing another off-the-cuff humorous comment four decades later? 

Do you feel disappointed that Dylan has consented to appear in the advert and, if you do, is it because he is above “mere” advertising or because it’s ladies undies and not, say, the complete set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica? I’d just like to say that it doesn’t bother me one bit, but then my expectations of Bob Dylan have tumbled somewhat over the past few years and very little that he does surprises or upsets me any more. Despite how it sounds, this is not actually supposed to be a criticism; while he is still able to produce the occasional classic song (Cross The Green Mountain) and the criminally overlooked Masked And Anonymous, then he’s doing o-kay in my book and it’s entirely up to him how he wants to earn money the rest of the time, whether it be schucking his live show around the world one more time or appearing on t.v. extolling the virtues of lace teddies and under-wired bras, it’s up to him. It’s his career and he’s entitled to do what he wants with it. 

And, if anyone still insists that Dylan has let them down; well, all heroes let you down eventually. Dylan just took longer than most. Be grateful that it took him forty years to do so. Now get used to it.