Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
The Schmooze

IBM Showcases a Different Side of Bob Dylan

It’s no longer news when Bob Dylan shows up in a commercial. Since 2004, he has appeared in spots for Victoria’s Secret, the Apple iPod, Cadillac, and Chrysler. But Dylan’s latest shill-ing, for an IBM “cognitive computing system” called Outthink, personified by a talking computer named Watson, introduces another side of Dylan the pitchman.

Until now, Dylan has been enigmatic or even downright creepy in commercials – who can forget him leering at a Victoria’s Secret model to the tune of his jaded, cynical tune, “Love Sick”? (Surely by now this must be a case study in the most outrageous marketing campaigns of all time.) When he shilled for Chrysler during Super Bowl 2014, he never even mentioned the name of the automobile – instead, he delivered a jingoistic rant about “made in America” with faint echoes of his 1983 song, “Union Sundown” (which led the Village Voice at the time to dub him “the William F. Buckley of rock ‘n’ roll”).

But Dylan breaks new ground with his pal Watson. He’s neither hiding behind shades nor underneath the large brim of a cowboy hat. He’s filmed up close and personal, with eyes still “bluer than robin’s eggs” (as Joan Baez described them in song) and a face all craggy and wrinkled, lined with a roadmap of the thousands of concerts he’s performed since his so-called Never Ending Tour began in 1989.

His only prop a classic model Fender Telecaster electric guitar, Dylan sits down and converses with Watson, who offers his summary of Dylan’s corpus: “My analysis shows that your major themes are that time passes and love fades.” To which Dylan, barely suppressing a giggle, replies, “That sounds about right.”

Yes, a giggle. He even cracks a smile. Bob Dylan hasn’t been seen smiling in public since 1975, and even that was only when he was wearing a large plastic Richard Nixon mask.

Yes, for the first time in a commercial, Dylan betrays a sense of humor and a willingness even to participate in a bit of self-mockery. “I have never known love,” says Watson, to which Dylan replies, “Maybe we should write a song together.” Watson then tells Dylan that he can sing. “You can sing?” Dylan answers, somewhat incredulously, which I read as another bit of self-awareness coming from one of the greatest singers of our era, a man who boasts a voice that most people still regard as an acquired taste.

Seth Rogovoy is a frequent contributor to the Forward and the author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet” (Scribner 2009).

Engage

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.