Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Adolescence Is For Sale, Chapter 138

So I was watching one of my late night cable soaps the other night (the outlaw biker soap, if you need to know), and a commercial comes on. I get up to fetch another beer from the fridge, and I hear some guitar feedback, and a bass intro.My head pops up from looking into the fridge to decide on what flavor I’m going to have next and my eyes immediately are drawn to the TV. Is that… Could that be… Holy Crap, IT IS!

Yep, the Misfits have joined the roster of bands providing music for commercials.The song is “Where Eagles Dare,” and the product is Sailor Jerry’s rum.The snippet I saw omits the profanity laced chorus of the song (which I expected), but a youtube search reveals that a version with the “I ain’t no goddamn son of a bitch” line is getting play in certain markets after certain hours. Here is the clean version.

Now, if this is where you’re expecting me to go on a tirade about punk rock “sellouts” and the compromising of subcultural integrity, you’d be wrong.Well, kinda. I have mixed feelings about this. And the phenomenon is anything but new.

Somebody told me that the Olympics were using The Clash’s “London Calling” to entice people to come, and I think the one that really got the ball rolling was the now ancient (by advertising world standards) SUV commercial that used “What Do I Get?” by the Buzzcocks, an ad I can't seem to track down, so help a brother out in the comment section below with a linky if you can. More recently, the Pogues had a song hawking minivans and hockey moms. And Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” has been used in commercials for all kinds of stuff (family friendly cruise lines immediately come to mind) EXCEPT liquor and drugs. This seems counter intuitive to me. Hell, it’s a song ABOUT liquor and drugs, why would you omit one of the best lines of the song?

Thus it came as a minor, yet totally unexpected surprise to hear the Misfits on a commercial. When I read that one of the tenets of Adam Yauch’s will forbid Beastie Boy tunes to be sold to advertisers, I kinda dismissed it as “oh, ok, um yeah, whatever,” but evidently this is a trend he was quite aware of.  In retrospect I realize he was probably already dealing with people waving money under his nose for the rights to use his songs. And the legal dispute that embroiled the Dead Kennedys in a lengthy and costly legal battle was reportedly over allowing Levi’s to use “Holliday in Cambodia” in a Dockers commercial. Which, personally, I think would’ve been neat to see, but if I were the ad exec, I'd have used that song for 501's.  Imagine: young Peace Corps volunteers getting all dirty digging wells and planting rice, wiping their dung-smeared hands off on the legs of their 501's.  Eventually turning them into cutoffs for a dip in the river, but all the while demonstrating the durability of Levi's 501 jeans.  But I digress.

It seems kind of weird to me to hear the music that fueled my rebellious teenage years used to sell something. And especially when it is punk rock music, which has always had a certain exclusivity to it, has always been the music of people outside the mainstream. I wouldn’t bat an eye to hear Bon Jovi songs used to sell adult diapers or erectile dysfunction meds, hell, that’s what that music always was: COMMERCIAL. But it surprises me a bit when they are using punk rock. And some of my friends are positively outraged, OUTRAGED I TELL YA, to see this trend.  How dare a bunch of suits take something so beloved, so sacred to us, the badge of our differentness, and use it to sell a product!  Those people on the other side of the TV have no idea what they're listening to!  Or what it meant to me when I was 15 years old and getting my ass kicked on a weekly basis because I had the temerity to be different from most of the people in my high school!

What I think it all comes down to is market segmentation. Sure, 30 years ago when punk rock was relatively new and dangerous and very much outside the mainstream, it would have never been the choice of advertisers.But 30 years ago, media, and the advert dollars that support it, were far more monolithic. So if you were an advertiser you were using the most mainstream songs possible to sell your product. Now, media is SO much more fragmented, and advertising is segmented to appeal to a widening diversity of Americans and myriad subcultures of potential customers.Obviously, the Sailor Jerry commercial is meant to attract tattooed, urban, under-30’s who like to get fucked up and grew up listening to a crate of their cool uncle’s cassette tapes that they discovered in Grandma’s basement.

It doesn’t hurt that the proliferation of digital media makes it easier for anyone interested in a particular type of music to find it online. Looking for NYC Hardcore from the early 80’s? Here ya go, Agnostic Front. Bay Area Thrash from the same time period? DRI, right this way. Wanna see Iggy Pop squirm around on TV on some late night TV show in the 70’s?Just a click away.

So I don’t think anyone is “selling out,” a term I never really liked, btw. It’s entirely possible that some guy or gal my age, some aging punk rocker who let their natural hair color come back out (presumably partly gray, by now), wears sleeves over their sleeves, and has a cool yet respectable job, thought “ya know what? I’ll bet I could get some cool music in this commercial and get it past my supervisors.” A lot of people who were in The Scene back in the day, in whatever town, are art directors and writers and Chief Creative Officers now, and I think they are injecting some of the cool stuff that they love into the mainstream. A quick search of my FB friends shows all us old ass punkers as moms and dads, PHD’s, doctors, carpenters, working artists, teachers, etc, etc. There's even a nuclear physicist in there.  Yeah, seriously. Why wouldn't we be leaving our stamp on a world we now have some degree of influence over?  And the artists?  I'm sure they like seeing their work earn a little coin too; they sure as hell weren't getting rich off of it back in the day.

All that said, I guess it should come as no surprise that The Buzzcocks have a song being used in a commercial for AARP. Truth be told, THAT'S the one that bums me out.

The only suggestion I have for the people at Sailor Jerry Rum is that maybe they should do a limited release bottling, rework the packaging a bit and call it “Sailor Jerry Only Rum.”

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