Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And we close today with a story from the musical trenches. Here is our resident musician, David Was.

DAVID WAS: I was surfing the old satellite TV the other day when I heard a familiar generational anthem. Bob Dylan's very own "Times They Are A-Changing."

(Soundbite of song, "Times They Are A-Changing")

Mr. BOB DYLAN (Singer): (Singing) I'm gathering people, where are your own?

WAS: It was serving as underscore for "Of All Things," an HMO commercial. Like Proust dipping his Hostess Twinkie in that famous cup of tea, it set off a chain of amusing if confusing memories. It was way back in 1994 that I took a call from a Boston advertising weasel wondering if I could put them in touch with Dylan's people so he could try to license the aforementioned classic for a TV spot.

Who's the client? I wondered aloud. Cooper's and Lybrand, corporate accountancy, he answered. Wait a minute, I protested weakly. Isn't that tantamount to Smith and Wesson trying to license the Book of Genesis? I'll tell what will happen, I added naively. He's going to ask you for a million bucks or more for the privilege. I'm prepared for that, the ad man said.

A week later he called back and said, okay, I got the song. Do you want to produce Ritchie Haven's doing it?

(Soundbite of song, "Times They Are A-Changing")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Well, the times, they are a-changing.

CHADWICK: Well, my indignation immediately evaporated when it meant a year's worth of mortgage payments for the two hours labor such a task would entail. So I flew to New York and cut the track, then happened to catch Bob performing his unplugged set of the Supper Club that same evening. You'll never guess what I was doing today, I said to him backstage afterwards. I was cutting your tune with Ritchie for that commercial.

Dylan stared at me like a bird in headlights, saying nothing, then put his arm around my shoulder and turned me toward his photographer to take a shot of us. This one's for my files, he said with a smile, which made me feel rather special. Until I heard him use the same line on some other mook three minutes later.

(Soundbite of song)

WAS: The spot ran during the Cotton Bowl that year. And after one of President Clinton's State of the Union addresses. It didn't cause much of a media stir, unlike when the Beatles' "Revolution" was licensed by Nike in 1987. And nowadays one hardly shrugs went hearing Jimi Hendrix on a Pepsi spot or The Who hustling (unintelligible). Donovan, Dylan's British archrival of old, currently helps burnish General Electric's eco-image, having sold "Catch the Wind" to go with footage of what else, wind farms?

(Soundbite of song)

WAS: In retrospect, I've learned to roll with Dylan's decision to take huge piles of filthy lucre from a capitalist swine he's always reviled. But I wonder if he Googled the infamous HMO before deciding to sell his signature ballot. Had he done his due diligence, he would have found lots of angry testimony about its reputation for slipshod treatment of patients, dumping of untreated medical waste, and whistleblowers being fired. But to borrow a phrase, don't criticize what you can't understand.

(Soundbite of song, "Times They Are A-Changing")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) You sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get any one of your cane and your hand for the times, they are a-changing.

CHADWICK: Music by Bob Dylan. Story by David Was, half of the musical duo Was Not Was.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.