The times, they are a-changin' into something more comfortable. Last week, ''American Idol'' viewers saw the debut of a Victoria's Secret ad that starred an unlikely pitchman: Bob Dylan. While young ''Idol'' viewers were probably wondering who was that geezer with the pencil-thin mustache, stalking an angel-winged lingerie model in a deserted Venetian palazzo, fans of the 62-year-old Voice of His Generation may have been wondering if Dylan had finally, truly sold out. Still others might have wondered how the presence of a senior-citizen rock bard singing a moody ballad about being sick of love was supposed to help sell ladies' underthings.
Sure, Dylan has made a four-decade career out of confounding his fans' expectations, and he's licensed his music to ads before (about a decade ago, he licensed his protest anthem ''The Times They Are A-Changin''' to a bank). But he's never appeared in a commercial. Why Victoria's Secret ? It seems the most unlikely pairing of commercial and spokesperson since those Nike ads a few years ago that tried to use an appearance by William S. Burroughs, the octogenarian cult author and recovering heroin addict, to sell sneakers.
Turns out Dylan picked Victoria's Secret for his commercial debut because the firm asked. ''We had done some spots last year with Dylan's music, and they got a great response,'' the company's creative director, Ed Razek, told the San Francisco Chronicle. ''So Les [Wexner, Victoria's Secret's CEO] asked, 'Do you think Dylan would do a commercial?' It was a stunningly bold idea. We called his management, they found a two-day hole in his schedule, and off we went to Venice.'' Dylan's record label, Columbia, was happy to expose his music to millions who might not have purchased such Dylan albums as 1997's Grammy-winning ''Time Out of Mind'' (source of ''Love Sick,'' the ballad he sings in the ad). ''We think this is a great way to reach people with Bob's music,'' Columbia spokeswoman Claire Mercuri told the Chronicle. ''We're thrilled that he said 'yes' when we asked him to be in the commercial.''
Dylan hasn't said why he made the ad; ''I can't speak for his motivation, but it certainly wouldn't be commercial,'' Razek says. Maybe he just wanted a free trip to Venice and a chance to hang out with Victoria's Secret models. As the Boston Globe notes, back in 1965, asked what product might entice him to sell out, Dylan replied, ''Ladies' undergarments.''