the price of greed at any cost
Television has recently re-entered my life after being absent for more than four years, and if the video and audio bombardment of two senses wasn't enough to rattle my consciousness, commercials being mistaken for music videos, and vice versa, certainly have.
The impetus for this tirade was a commercial for some kind of car, and the fact that I can't remember what brand of car is probably a fair indicator that those advertising dollars spent were wasted on this consumer. An abbreviated version of the song One Week by Bare Naked Ladies laid down the charged up musical background for the commercial; a song, mind you, that's not what one could would consider long in the tooth. I was appalled that a song that gets a fair amount of radio airplay could be sold out and find its way so quickly to be used in a commercial to sell cars.
Not to come across as paranoid or anything, but I find it, uh...peculiar that while doing some web surfing and entering the well-known acronym for the band Bare Naked Ladies, BNL, on a popular search engine, an incredible number of search matches came up for another BNL - Brookhaven National Laboratory. Brookhaven, for the uninformed, is one of our countries many high-tech and potentially dangerous scientific facilities, and is located on Long Island in the town of Upton, New York. It's worth checking out, if for no other reason than to read their mission statement: it's an absolute hoot! But I digress; now back to the tirade ...
This has been gnawing at me for a long time. It dates back to the 1980s, or thereabouts: a time when I worked as a soundman for local and regional music acts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. One particular band I briefly worked for was Delacey Boulevard - a band that could have cleaned up in the regional bar scene, had they collectively lowered their standards by jumping on the clone or tribute band craze of the day. Delacey Boulevard had resigned themselves to the basic truth that all-original music bands were in for some very steep, uphill sledding around the northeast, unless they liked losing money. So instead they wove original material into their play lists and upped the ante with another original, and resultant dropping of a cover, on a regular basis. I loved that band, if for no other reason than for that one!
Delacey Boulevard's "it's time get on stage and work" canned song was In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins, a song well known as a gut wrenching autobiographical musical description of the tears, darkness and depression of the dissolution of a relationship. Deeply personal pain put to music. It blared out of the formidable four-way PA system night after night, ushering them on stage, and if the song hadn't bore into the very core of my soul before going to work for them, that PA pile-drove it in during my time with the band.
So it was with great disbelief, disgust and regret when a beer commercial on TV played through its allotted 60-seconds with In The Air Tonight as the musical background. I remember it as vividly as it was yesterday - I stood up and screamed towards the television set, "COLLINS, YOU'RE A SLEAZY, LOW-RENT SELLOUT!" My neighbors were not pleased with my outburst and made their displeasure more than apparent with their classic communications method of banging on the wall. Message received. Thank you.
Apparently that commercial helped sell a lot of beer, and made a lot of money for both the beverage company and Collins. I don't know about the contractual nonsense surrounding such business, but it's a safe bet that someone besides the television network was making money on it. Well, wouldn't you know that shortly after the debut of Phil Collins selling out to the American beer machine, along strolls someone I proclaimed as being My God in the 1960s. Much to my emotional dismay and causing severe gastric and intestinal distress, this time it was none other than Eric Clapton selling out his After Midnight. My world had been shattered.
It was at that point that I made a vow to never buy and always tune away from any music produced post-In The Air Tonight/After Midnight by either of the aforementioned artists, fully aware that doing so would likely and masochistically deprive myself of some very fine music. Standards are standards, and I felt the sacrifice worth the unwavering standard - a standard I've lived up to to-date.
So it is with some considerable and significant historical roots and monitoring the music scene since the Delacey days (or daze ...) that I seriously doubt the musical integrity of bands like Bare Naked Ladies, after so unashamedly selling off a still-popular song to corporate America (or Japan).
Our well-worn, and hence dog-eared, copy of Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language lists one of the definitions for the word excess as being "an amount that is greater than is necessary."
So the question naturally arises, just how much money do these celebrity video billboards need? How much is necessary? They're apparently successful - otherwise corporate advertising types wouldn't be chasing them around, with fresh contract and pen in hand, like a stray dog trailing a bitch in heat. With such success, I would think that income would increase, thus reducing need. Is it a case of "bigger-better-faster-more," coincidentally the title of the CD that provided brief notoriety for one-hit-wonders 4 Non Blondes?
But hang on, folks. In case you've been living in a commercial-free protective bubble for a while like I had, it isn't just Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and BNL that have so willingly provided the musical backdrop for commercial advertising. Any aging hippies out there remember first hearing Crosby, Stills and Nash's classic Our House on a Sears home improvement commercial?
Since this article was started, television viewing hasn't been the same for me. A commercial will come on, I'll identify the background music and make a mad dash to the computer that sits at-the-ready with word processor loaded and what was this article's draft file opened and waiting for more input. And input there is.
Take Britney Spears, for example. No, don't take her for example - take her somewhere far, far away. Please! Now Britney is HUGE, and I'm not referring to the much rumored about breast enhancement surgery. I'm thoroughly convinced that if she made a CD comprised of 10 tracks of only belching - no music, no singing - it would sell and probably "go gold" within a week. Why does she need to be pushing Pepsi? And why the commercial with Austin Powers? A soda, a movie character and a (dubious) music performer. Call me a dinosaur, but I just don't buy into this commercial cross-breeding.
Kid Rock, another relative newcomer to the music scene is the star du jour for Coors, the big beer company that is probably underwriting his tours. This makes me think that Kid Rock actually is the "trailer park trash" he sings about with such disdain. And to watch VH-1 fall all over this self-proclaimed neo legend and kiss his boots on their program "The One Hundred All Time Hits of Rock and Roll" makes one very sick. The audacity of VH-1 putting any credence on Kid Rock's take on Led Zepplin is just too much to bear.
I've recently stumbled across pictures of Steve Tyler, Elton John and Eddie Van Halen mugging for the camera in the long-since tired "GOT MILK?" ad campaign. A painful and sickening visit to whymilk.com revealed to me just how vast the extent of celebrity endorsement really is, and I'm not even lactose intolerant, although that could be changing. Of a vast list of music types, Amy Grant, Backstreet Boys, Billy Ray Cyrus, Britney Spears, Dixie Chicks, Hanson, KISS and Paul Shaffer have all suckled away on the "Got Milk?" celebrity endorsement teat. I not-so-nicely pose this question to all of them: Got Ethics? Or how about: "Got enough money yet?"
A slick string of thrill ride videos and the band Sugar Ray providing the musical backdrop (or back flop) with their I Just Wanna Fly are what Six Flags Amusement Parks are hammering the airwaves with to force parents to take out home equity loans so as to pay for park admission for their family. Then the children eat massive amounts of junk food and then puke their stomachs dry while on "amusement" rides. I don't know about you, but when I see that commercial and hear the band Sugar Ray selling out, I just wanna puke.
Although not the Beatles recording, their song All Together Now is being used by cell phone service provider Verizon. If I'm not mistaken, Michael Jackson bought the rights to a huge chunk of the Beatles collection years ago, so perhaps he is the one who has cashed in on this one. He did sell out to Pepsi years ago, losing some hair (and respect) in the process, so there is pre-established sellout behavioral history.
London Calling, a huge hit for post-punk new wavers The Clash, blares away in a commercial for Jaguar automobiles. That a bummer, Mr. Strummer.
Night clubs on the casino circuit apparently haven't provided Debbie Harry and her band Blondie with enough money, so their One Way or Another is being used by Mazda to sell cars. With remote in hand, I'm going to avoid that commercial one way or another.
Watching the recent NASCAR NetZero 250 race provided some more anti-endorsement fodder for this tirade. After the "Gentlemen: start your engines" announcement, the network quickly switched to a slick Busch beer commercial with Lynrd Skynrd's Simple Kind Of Man in the not-so-distant background. During another commercial barrage during the same race, Applebee's seasoned their souped up splash color food advertisement with the Dave Clarke Five's 1960s classic Come On.
I really try to like Bill Cosby - I really do. His early stand-up routines and comedy albums were top shelf . These were the days before Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids came along on TV. But then came The Cosby Show and the next thing you know, The Cos jumps into bed with the entire advertising department of Jello. For the life of me, I just can't understand the Cosby-Jello connection. Did Jello do a demographic study and find that they had insufficient penetration into the Afro-American market and decided to employ stand-up comedian, turned cartoon character, turned sit-com star to turn on blacks to Jello? Was Jello pandering for the black dessert vote in supermarkets across America?
And just tonight I saw a Honda commercial on TV that revolved around Time Has Come Today, an old Chambers Brothers tune. Now it's a safe bet that any of the Chambers Brothers still alive are probably long established AARP members, and it's quite possible that they were screwed out of rights to that song years ago, so I'm not going to categorize them as sellouts. It's sad to see the music of a number of generations being used like hunting scent to lure consumers into the "buy me" snare. No, it's not just "sad" - it's disgusting.
Ford Motor Company is currently running an ad with Queen's We Will Rock You, a song various sports events have been flogging for years already. Ford's use of the song is quite apropos if you happen to own, or owned, one of Ford's vehicles that were the subject of a massive recall for defective TFI ignition modules, or an Explorer with a set of those wonderful Goodyear tires.
Scanning a number of newspapers as part of the prep work for a radio program I hosted a couple of years ago provided me with one of the more bizarre and puzzling endorsements I've ever seen. Tucked inside the newspaper was an advertising insert for a local carpet business. Nothing odd yet, right? Well on the bottom of this ad was a photo of a most unlikely pair of musicians I would have imagined: B.B. King and long-time Johnny Carson era Tonight Show band leader Doc Severinson. A carpet ad, you muse? Me too. Long and hard. Without an answer. By the way, B.B. looks pretty much like B.B. has for the past few years, however, Severinson looks a little, uh...ragged around the edges.
Although a dedicated, hard working musician and performer, B.B. King has sold more than records, CDs and carpets. He also did the sellout thing with fast food chain Wendy's. I remember seeing a commercial for the chain with some B.B. music in the background and Dave Thomas saying "I've got the blues" or something equally incredible and insincereble like that. I don't know about you, but I'm having a little trouble imagining Dave Thomas having much personal knowledge of, experience with, or appreciation for "the blues."
A cursory read through "Traveler", a southeast Connecticut travel/entertainment monthly, revealed another sellout of the blues. Much like Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil in his song Crossroads, apparently ole B.B. has jumped in bed with the Chief of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, and after many cycles of bedspring compression and expansion, besides leaving soiled sheets, the two are the proud parents of "Club BB King" and "B.B. King Nite Club."
And now B.B. King is endorsing the ONE TOUCH(r) Ultra System for diabetes care. Considering he was born in 1925, doing the requisite math, and his move into endorsing medical products, I can't help but wonder if B.B. and Lucille will be doing commercials for Depends products in the not too distant future.
While the topic of carpets is still fresh in your mind, I offer this to ponder: how about Rogaine nay sayer Burt Reynolds doing commercial endorsements for that carpet outlet? If not, then perhaps "hair care" product ads aimed at fellow toupee wearers in ads for Carpet Magic, Scotch Guard, Stanley Steemer, ElectroLux or Hoover.
Here's an image to burn into your brain: David Crosby grinning psychotically with what newspapers commonly report as "a white powdery substance believed to be..." under his nose and on his mustache in a new commercial brought to you by our very own CIA and the Colombian Federal Chamber of Commerce as part of their "Got Cocaine?" ad campaign.
Or how about the survivors of the car wreck that unfortunately took the life of Lisa Left-Eye Lopez, standing in front of the wreck and singing a car company's new slogan-made-jingle aptly entitled "At least is wasn't a Ford."
Now in all fairness to The Doomed and The Benevolent, there very well may be some celebrities whose product endorsements are not greed-based. Old and out-of-the-loop has-beens from the entertainment world may have been dealt a series of devastating blows and actually NEED the money such endorsements bring: the sad image of Orson Welles hawking Paul Masson wines comes to mind immediately. Others very well may donate income derived from product endorsements to charities or other fine causes. I cannot chastise The Doomed, The Benevolent, nor The Generous.
However, I believe that greed breeds greed breeds greed, and there are a LOT of celebrities out there padding already overstuffed wallets, purses and bank accounts, or financing private Lear Jet special deliveries from Columbia to the Keys. It is to those greedheads that I ask: when is enough enough?
The band Negativland were right on target with their CD released in 1997 entitled DISPEPSI. In the final cut entitled "Bite Back," there is the line "we can control the corporations, all we have to do is stop buying what they're selling." We are not the pawns to capitalist's advertising. There is a difference between being a pawn and being a target. I don't know about you, but I choose to be a moving target, thank you very much!
Though I haven't heard the song in years, strains of Neil Young's "This Note's For You" just drifted into my brain from a cloud or something (the stereo is off), as if to offer confirmation, approval and resolve to my long-standing commitment to boycott post-sellout works by Phil Collins and Eric Clapton. Let someone else feed the beast.
Text - Copyright © 2002 Jeff Bauer
Web Layout – Copyright © 2003, 2004 Off Frequency Productions
Revised - Thursday, September 8, 2005