Tuesday, February 10, 2009

integrity reserves hit new low

Iggy Pop. Fronting the Stooges he embodied something feral, questing, reckless, dark, bold and challenging. The Stooges were so out-there that Elektra, a label that comfortably handled The Doors' sinister weirdness and Jim Morrison's antics, didn't let them record the scheduled third album.

In recent years he's back with the re-formed Stooges - complete with the funniest rider in the history of rock - and showing that age doesn't have to compromise your incendiary drive.

Except now he's doing adverts for car insurance. He's taken thirty years to go from a lust for life to 'get a life, get swift covered'.

A man who pioneered so much of the punk attitude of authenticity and outsiderness. A man who, given that he gets half the royalties for oldies-radio fave China Girl as well as trousering much of the recent Stooges reunion dosh, is not in need of the money.

Like an adolescent who's suffered the indignity of their mum walking in on a wank, decided there's no shame left so carries on even though she's stood there watching, he's done a second advert.

Iggy explains how he's 'got a life' and 'isn't wasting it any more' because now he's got this brand of car insurance.

As I've said elsewhere -

Bill Hicks described marketing and advertising as 'the most evil concept ever'. Surely an exaggeration? What about war, torture, Chris De Burgh? But with those at least there's a purpose of belief and commitment, however misguided; marketing and advertising are all about lying by inference, by association or just plain outright.

It uses vast resources and hires some of the best creative minds alive in order to make people misunderstand themselves and the world around them, to discourage and thwart critical thinking. Advertising exists to make us feel more alienated, and make us pay for that feeling. Its sole intended purpose is to deceive, its primary effect is to make people feel worse by promoting a deep spiritual emptiness.

It works by divining our deepest desires and then saying they will be realised if we only buy the product being advertised. Then we buy the product, find our deepest desires haven't come to pass and feel a deeper yearning, a great deflation and further removed from what we were hoping for in the first place. In the meantime, we've also got poorer as the advertiser scuttles off laughing to the bank with our money.

We end up trapped in jobs that mean nothing to us, led away from things that would enliven and unify us by false promises that, once they are seen through, make us even more empty and hopeless. These things combine to desensitise us, to make us feel less connection, have less time to care, to make us more prone to all those other things - such as war, torture or Chris de Burgh - that we might suggest as the more evil concept.

Even the hardline Bill Hicks said 'if you're a struggling actor then I'll look the other way' while an advert is made. But the more prominent someone is the richer they are so the less excuse they have.

What's worse, much worse, is that if they're any good at all they've built up something, a public profile based on having something to bring to people, something enriching, something that takes us closer to where we should be. Then they take that open door to our hearts and let a load of vultures come in and rip our guts out.

Somehow when Keith Richards sells the rights to use Satisfaction to Snickers, or even when Lemmy advertises Nestle chocolate it's not quite the same to me. Those guys have a long history of being amoral.

But some people really stood for something, so there's something lost, something betrayed by becoming a tool of consumerism. So it means something when Iggy flogs us insurance, when John Lydon sells butter, when Joy Division advertise banks or when Led Zeppelin flog a 14mpg Cadillac.

Zeppelin, by the way, aren't the only ones hawking Cadillacs. Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour is one of the best radio shows I've ever heard. His ability to pick through nearly a century of recorded music and to bring the ancient as alive as the modern, to recontextualise something you thought of as fluff (the Beatles' Baby's In Black will never be the same again for me) or present you with a nugget of true greatness is unparalleled.

The show goes out on the BBC in the UK. Elsewhere on earth it goes out on commercial stations. And that's fair enough I suppose. What I can't understand is why there had to be TV commercials for the show's sponsors Cadillac.

It's bad enough that the ads feature Dylan not only pouring that great voice as a shill's lies about the cars ('they make you feel like a million bucks,' says the man who knows what a million bucks or ten feels like and so doesn't need to be selling his arse like this). But they also have the man himself driving around in one. And a fucking SUV at that. And totally gratuitously, or, as he put it, 'nothing goes better with a Cadillac than a long ride to nowhere'.

This is Bob Dylan doing a radio show! I doubt he'll have much trouble getting on air if he strikes out the 'personally suck corporate cock on camera' clause. Yet here he is.

Doing adverts not only sours the taste of what they do but also of their previous work, like the way none of the great Gary Glitter singles will ever sound right again.

Beyond that, it lowers what we expect of present artists and makes us wonder what even the great ones will do in future. It creates a culture of acceptance of this shit, it normalises and validates the idea that everything creative we ever do is less important than making profits, that no voice is more powerful or worthy than that of corporate power.

Or to put it another way, 'everyone dreams of being a rock star. What, then, do rock stars dream of?'. That's the text of an advert - another for luxury cars - featuring Sting performing then being chauffeured around in a Jaguar S-Type.

With carbon emissions of around 280g/km, double the new EU limit for manufacturers incurring fines, from a company that managed to get themselves a special exemption from that EU law, it's quite an assault on the rainforests Sting was urging us to save a couple of years back.

To return to what I've said elsewhere, taking the easy money of doing adverts is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in an established artist. By surrendering to the pressure to become just another brand, just a saleable commodity, or - less even than that - a mere sales tool for vacuous or actively destructive commodities, they tell us a lot about themselves.

They tell us their work is not paramount to them any longer; their view of the original reasons for doing their work has become obscured; their conscience is gagged; they don't mean enough to themselves any more. That being so, how can they mean anything to us?

= = = = = =

UPDATE 26 FEB 09: The Advertisiing Standards Authority are investigating following complaints that it is misleading for Swiftcover to imply Iggy Pop has insurance with them when - you guessed it - the company refuses to insure professional musicians.


Anonymous said...

Yo Merrick, when I saw that Iggy Pop advert I thought of you. Once again you've done this issue justice, and have culled from YouTube and presented here a collection of the most revolting sell-outs. Just watching them makes me taste bile at the back of my throat. I still remember the Sting lyric "packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes". Cunt.

Anonymous said...

Adding insult to injury, the Iggy spots are between each and every advert break in Battlestar Galactica! Shame.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall that when Dylan was catching a lot of flak for advertising for Victoria's Secret, he actually came out and said that all that radical stuff in the '60s was just an act, because that was what was selling at the time. I'm not entirely convinced he was ever really "bought in".

merrick said...

Dunc, i'm not saying that Dylan was necessarily committed in the specifics of politics, but there can be no doubt that he stood for something. The way he railed against the stupidity of mass-media culture, his keenness of his quest to make something with real heart, to align with the great poets he so admired is sincere beyond doubt.

Latterly, he criticises those who want to hear the old hits ('I'm not a jukebox!') then plays private corporate gigs in silicon valley, all the hits no problem, thankyou for the fat cheque.

Can you imagine what Dylan back in the day would've said about millionaire rock stars doing that?

french panic said...

thank you for this - well put.