Bob Dylan hit with a fist, not flower

David Barkholz is a reporter for Automotive News.

For many baby boomers, it's tough to be disciplined by your hero.

But there was singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, credited with being the anti-establishment voice of the Vietnam War generation, defiantly celebrating American cars and American workers in the controversial Chrysler Super Bowl commercial that debuted last night.

"Detroit made cars. And cars made America," Dylan reminded 100 million TV viewers.

Wow, the ex-flower children gulped. Isn't this the guy who sang so forcefully for ending the war back in the '60s and early '70s?

Then it got worse for Dylan fans. Way worse. Dylan, once the musical conscience of a nation, challenged viewers to give American auto workers a chance to show their mettle.

"Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car."

Hit me with a flower!

Except it was more like being grabbed by the throat.

One of my colleagues at Advertising Age, a sibling publication of Automotive News, disliked the spot so much that he gave it one star out of four. It bordered on being xenophobic, he said.

Sorry, brother, but I liked it. I've liked all of Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" spots, starting with the Eminem commercial that debuted three years ago in the Super Bowl. There's still a place in America for pep talks. I never found Ray Lewis, screaming before kickoff at his Baltimore Ravens teammates, to be corny or contrived. Dylan wasn't corny, either.

He hit a sour chord with a lot of baby boomers, though. Especially on the coasts, they turned in droves to Japanese, Swedish and German automobiles as soon as real jobs and growing families made hitchhiking and Microbuses inconvenient.

Many boomers have never come back to American-made cars and trucks. Many have never given them another chance. Nor have their kids. Last night in the Chrysler commercial, Dylan, their erstwhile hero, asked them why.

Sorry if that was painful. What I saw in Dylan is what I've always seen -- an artist who cares about working people shouting out a salute.

He's saying it again in case you missed it the first time: "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: @barkholzatan

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