I have written enthusiastically here about Bob Dylan. Perhaps I have been immoderate in my praise, throwing around gaudy bangles like "Nobel Prize" and "Greatest Artist of the 20th Century." Having looked into the Nobel Prize, its committee structure, and all its choices I'm happy to toss that one away as exceedingly unlikely and sort of pointless, but that "Greatest Artist" one remains fairly irresistible to me and I might, in the right mood, get pretty fierce about it. Who's better or more important? The thing is, I'm not alone on this one. The respect runs profoundly deep on Bob Dylan. It's not just the sharp, smart fans and critics, but probably far more notably, it's the vast swath of other esteemed, lauded, and world famous musicians and songwriters who walk in his footsteps and hold a kind of regard for him that seems similar to what any writer who's paying attention might think of Shakespeare.
All of this is why I was so unprepared for what I saw a short while ago. I don't remember where I was or what I was watching, probably some YouTube video of such luring appeal that I could be forced to sit through a short commercial. I don't remember much specifically what was being sold, but I'm pretty sure it was a car, or maybe just a car company in general. What was utterly unforgettable was that the pitchman was Bob Dylan himself, the greatest artist of the 20th century, and he was apparently reduced to working for car salesmen in order to get by.
I don't know if Bob Dylan had some unscrupulous manager, if he mumbled through one too many concerts, or illegal downloading finally cut his margins down to nothing, but clearly some disaster has struck! There is no way a genius like Bob Dylan would humiliate himself by begging people to buy some fat cat's cars unless he was desperately hungry. To think that we have allowed this magnificent artist to fall so low! I picture him riding the rails, sleeping under bridges, sharing old folk tunes with strangers on his battered harmonica in hopes of getting enough quarters to buy a can of stew, but all through it aware that winter was coming, and that he and his old bones needed real shelter, in a room, with heat, and regular meals. Perhaps he was too proud to call on old friends. Perhaps he felt his only option was to contact some slimy manager from his past.
"No." the guy tells him. "I told you there's no gigs. But I know some guys, as a favor to me, who wouldn't mind if you said some nice things about their car company. Not everyone has forgotten you. It'll get you off the streets for a few months."
Slimy bastard! And what choice did Dylan have? He's a senior citizen, impoverished, alone, and forgotten by all but a few hundred million people who think he's one of the greatest artists who ever lived. And we just sit there and let his personal tragedy unfold, like it's just another media sideshow.
"Oh," we say. "So Dylan's doing car commercials now. How the mighty have fallen (snicker)."
Well not me. The buck stops here! The man is a genius. He does not deserve humiliation. He does not deserve to have penury and poor choices force him into rank huckstering merely so he can stay solvent in his golden years. He shouldn't have to eat cold beans from a can to get by!
That is why I have started the "Send ten dollars to Bob Dylan" website. It's tax deductible and every cent of your donation, after administrative expenses, will go to help out the finest genius of our time. The author of Like a Rolling Stone shouldn't have to sell cars to get three squares! And It doesn't have to be ten dollars. It can be less if you're a bit short this month. Every bit helps. Also, if you're, like, Bruce Springsteen, or Neil Young or something, and saved more prudently for retirement, I'm guessing you've got a spare room somewhere. Maybe you'd consider putting Mr. Dylan up for a couple months, just, you know, until he can get back on his feet again. Maybe you keep him away from these car salesmen and unscrupulous managers while we gather a nest egg for him.
Remember that treasured old saw: There but for the grace of God go I.