Sunday, October 09, 2005

Rock & Roll Sellouts: Who's Next?

Try to make sense of this: for the last three years, I've rather admired the cut of the Cadillac line (Escalades excepted). I think the CTS-V is a snappy-looking vehicle. Stealth-bomber reference aside, it looks like it would be both a fast and luxurious ride. I expect I'd even enjoy driving one around for the summer, if I had the bucks.

Shifting gears: I've yet to outgrow my "Led Zeppelin" phase. Bombastic, silly, entirely non-sensical (except when Robert Plant is singing about sex) it remains good music for long drives, and kitchen days. So why is it that every time I turn on the TV to see the Cadillac ad, played to "Been A Long Time" with John Bonham's signature thump-and-smash and Plant's signature yowling, I think just a little less of both Cadillac and the Zep?

Weird little conundrum, that. Conversely, after I read this LA Times piece about the feuding members of The Doors (thank you, Scott), I had a little more respect for John Densmore, Bruce Springsteen, and even (choke) The Eagles! It's not as if I think rock is some counter-cultural force, the soundtrack to the revolution, or anything similarly removed from reality. Billy Bragg used to sell T-shirts that read "Capitalism Is Killing Our Music", a clever sentiment my knee jerks in agreement with -- but I have to wonder how "our music" would fare under socialism. (It fares quite well, according to supporters of the CRTC. The argument is Canadian rock got its legs in the 70s and 80s thanks to government regulation of commercial airwaves, guaranteeing a certain percent of Canadian content. A topic for another post, perhaps.) I still think a band couldn't get any more commercial than The Eagles, but clearly the product they are most intent on selling is The Eagles, and not the Trans Am, or a feathered iPod.

It's always seemed to me that commercial use of a band's music signifies their exhaustion as a cultural force. I knew The Who were completely spent the minute they were "covered" by the California Raisins. The Rolling Stones shilling for Microsoft was a self-fulfilling prophecy for both commodities: "You got to start me up/I never start/I never start" (replace all lyrics with "Control, Alt, Delete" and you've got it right on the money!). It's been years since I've listened to U2, and when I saw Bono hawking iPods, I thought, "Swan song."

I'm probably out to lunch with that last statement. Bono obviously disagrees, and a seemingly unshakeable fan base will back him up. He claims the iPod ad is legit because the product is something the entire band is in fact excited about, and because the song being used isn't one of their "sacred" numbers. And is this ad really all that far removed from turning on the radio and hearing "Where The Streets Have No Name", followed by a 2-4-1 pizza jingle? Buy the iPod and you'll never need to hear that jingle again.

Still and all, I finally prefer it when a performer says, "My music is the superior product. I'm not here to sell pizzas; the pizza is here to sell me." Tom Waits says corporations "suck the life and meaning from the songs and impregnate them with promises of a better life with their product," an assessment that is harsh but contains an element of truth to it. But I think my pique is mostly fueled by the perception of something more basic: the lethal combo of greed and laziness. Cadillac can't do any better than cadge a song that's over 30 years old? Are Plant and company really so bone-tired they can't think of any better way to give their music airplay than to sing for a car? Self-satisfied sloth, languorous self-indulgent laziness, all of it, and it doesn't sell a bloody thing. The iPod ad in no way prompts me to give U2 another spin; I've always disliked cel-phones, and now I've cooled on AC/DC, too; and regardless of whether Bob Dylan is selling panties or bank accounts, the spectre of him as adman is just plain sad.

If you've given up on being an artist, go out and get a real job already.


F.C. Bearded said...

Alternatively - as I have myself wondered - perhaps the commercial is another sly joke from The Grim One: See! it says, Page and Plant? They're both of them ready for Cadillacs now. Or Oldsmobiles, or Buicks, or any other of those automobile brands favored by the Geriontocracy, that slow and slide across our streets and lanes at thirteen miles per hour?

Those commercials, sadly, always leave me with a terrible image of a long- and curly-haired Plant, two hands grasping the top of a steering wheel over which he - and his bottlebutt glasses - are peering confusedly, while Jimmy sits knitting in the rear, telling him to slow down!

Whisky Prajer said...

Now that you mention it, I suppose it really has been a long time since they rock and rolled. Yes, that image of yours is probably right on the money, in more ways than one.

DarkoV said...

FCB, you are too kind. I thought Plant would be driving not "long- and curly-haired , but rather with a moat of a pate surrounded by tufts of greyish-blond bits. Now, that would call for one of his signature any speed.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Obviously, the employ of our youthful idols are meant to sell multitudinous crap to us Boomers. Expensive excrement at that.

There's no doubt the era of OUR rock and roll is superior, the performers legendary, but it irks the living hell out of me to see it so cheaply hawked. Demeaning to my once hippiesque senses.

Did you think you would ever see Bob Dylan as a sellout?


Tom said...

The recently released movie Lords of Dogtown apparently features a Led Zep song (not sure which one, because I haven't and probably won't see the flick). The budget for the movie was $30million, of which $3million was spent on getting that song included in the soundtrack! When I heard that Cadillac ad with the Zep song playing, I knew they'd spent a fortune on the rights to use the track, but they of all car companies can afford it. Me... I drive a Kia... and I'm not a Led Zeppelin fan at all. I do like classic rock... Jethro Tull has long been a favorite act, Pink Floyd, too.

I'm always amused when fanboys state that an act has "sold out". Like when they sell a jingle to a company to hawk their product. Or when their 2nd album isn't as gritty or moving as their first, and cries of "selling out to the corporate machine" can be heard. I've accused many a band of the same crime/sin. BUt the music business is just that - a business. The moment you hear a musician on the radio, on a CD, or even busking in the streets, they've sold out. They're selling their art which changes them from musicians to business people.

Now, I can still appreciate that a musician wants to share their art with as many people as possible, therefore they have little choice but to become a corporate whore. Otherwise, they end up playing just to friends, family and those who discover their MP3's hosted online. Which is why I have respect for artists who understand that technology will probably be the death of the music industry as it works today. Information wants to be free... download an MP3 today!

Whisky Prajer said...

CP (and Tom, for that matter) - Dylan is a special case, I think. The guy was forever trying to set himself apart from the riff-raff, right from the get-go. Of all the ornery, cussed things he's done, the one that resembles "riff-raff" the most is letting a bank use "The Times They Are A-Changing" for a TV ad. Furthermore, were you to travel back in time and tell a Dylan/Baez fan that The Man would sing and make an appearance on a panty commercial, it's doubtful you'd survive to make the trip back. I think Waits' critique applies, here: it's not about getting airplay -- it's about letting your song substitute a product where poetic substance once had reign. You can be a musician and a business person, but if you're a canny business person, you appreciate the emotional value of your product. However...

Tom - "Aqualung" might be just the tune to get KIA sales off the ground!

F.C. Bearded said...

Ach, I never think of artists as "selling-out" just because they let their songs be used in tampon commercials or whatever. They write the thing, they still own it, it's theirs to make whatever they can out of it.

Sometimes it can be very funny. I happened to work at Nortel when they first launched those "Come Together" commercials. They paid a fortune to have it covered - no originals there. But upper management at that time was so conservative and risk-averse that we were all convinced that none of them realized what the lyrics meant.

"Eyeing little girls with mal intent" - sure: wouldn't you just love to hear that on a KIA commercial?