My recent mild and considered piece about corporate cash and the music industry (see below) was provoked by the activities of an almost unknown Scottish singer songwriter and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
This week, Bob Dylan's Superbowl ad for Chrysler may lead some to say, well, if it's OK for Bob, it must be fine for Poor Wee Rachel. Which would be a response as facile, blinkered and ethically bankrupt as some of the sickening self-interest which stemmed from the Scottish music scene as a response last week. The week in which RBS, not coincidentally, announced a profits warning due to the massive legal bill it faces in the wake of its various financial scandals.
Bob, of course, doesn't care. He has taken the money and run with the directorial requirements on previous occasions - Pepsi (with Will.i.am, effortlessly conjoining protest, two kinds of pop and the X Factor), Cadillac and Victoria's Secret. The Pepsi ad involved granting permission for the use of a song and some old footage. He appears in all three others, somewhat enigmatically and arguably jokingly in the case of the , ah, underwear commercial. The Superbowl Chrysler film is different. It's rampantly xenophobic and invokes Detroit as a symbol of America's greatness, at a time when that bankrupt city's administration is selling off everything it can just to keep the barest minimum of services available, essentially due to the auto industry's ruthless withdrawal. Even its art, Bob.
For long-term Dylan watchers, this kind of nationalistic right wing breast-beating is nothing new, and there's no point in trying to defend it as some kind of knowing, withering sarcasm. He's meant it when he embraced Messianic Judaism/fundamentalist Christianity/warmongering American expansionsim/fellow-travelling Communism lite. What was in common with all these ideological stances was a ruthless self-promotion and sense of what, in the end, was good for Bob. Money doesn't talk, it screams. Very loudly in Dylan's ear. But Bob's beyond. Bob's bigger than all of that. At least, that's what he tells himself.
None of which means he's not the most brilliant rock'n'roll entity who has ever walked the earth. I'll take John Buchan over any Scottish writer before or since, and I don't have to be an antisemitic, colonialist arch-Tory to do so. You can discern the ability and appreciate the art without becoming an ally of the stupidity and moral torpor.
Though, of course, others have chosen a different path.
Neil Young, for example, whose This Note's for You still holds up as a ferocious statement of no-sell-out intent. He loves trains, real and model (and indeed rescued the company Lionel Trains from bankruptcy). And cars. He loves American cars, and unlike Dylan, he sees both the symbolic importance of Detroit in American culture and the threat to the environment posed by the petrochemical industry. When it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, no-one trumps Neil. He is funding and promoting the LincVolt, a fuel-efficient, hybrid car like no other: It's a 1959 Lincoln Continental, one of those barge like, multi-finned icons of Americana. But powered by an environmentally-friendly motor. Neil understands symbols. But he also understands political and environmental realities. And wants to change them.
And he understands Dylan, perhaps, better than anyone. He owes him, after all, such a debt, and unlike anyone else I can think of, he states that explicitly in the song Twisted Road ('First time I heard Like a Rolling Stone/I felt that magic and I took it home/Gave it a twist and I made it mine/But nothing was as good as the very first time').
He also knows full well the single-minded commitment necessary to achieve anything in the music business. But he recognises too, the damage that can ensue and the tragedy of those left behind. The cost. This heartrending story goes back to his earliest days in Winnipeg and perhaps, in Young's quotes, reveals more about what is involved in taking your art from the parochial to the universal than anything else I've read.
He (Bill Edmondson of The Squires) didn't share my determination to keep on going at any cost. He wanted to stay back where he knew things were OK rather than try for more. He was a wonderful person who loved to sing and play. He could have done what I did, but he didn't.
'At any cost'. Young was and is prepared to pay the price. Dylan, it seems, wants others to cover rather more than his expenses. Arguably, it's Young who sees the bigger picture, and Dylan whose utter self-obsession, not for the first time, leaves for many observers and fans his art trapped in the context of a shabby and ungenerous life.
A twisted road, indeed.