Thursday, November 04, 2010

what would you do if i sold out a song?

Well, I think I'd stand up and walk out on you.

We always have to wonder not only about actions and deeds, but about what they normalise and what they point the way to. I just watched TV for the first time in months. On one channel in less than two hours, Gimme Shelter and Children Of The Revolution advertised computer games, Pretty Vacant advertised betting, the Lightning Seeds advertised a bank, and Lemmy actually appeared in the advert where there's a specially re-recorded Ace of Spades advertising beer. This is what we feared when The Clash advertised jeans in the 90s.

This has an anti-encouragement effect on me, it makes me feel soiled and hate the products. Then again, I suppose I'm not exactly the target audience.

But this is normal for most people isn't it? Like living next to a sewage farm, you stop smelling the stench of commerce after a while.

The average Briton watches four hours of TV a day. People who watch more than seven hours a day are more common than those of us who watch less than an hour.

Doomed. Deservedly.


Jim Bliss said...

I too watch very little TV these days (all hail DVD box-sets!) but I switched it on a couple of nights ago and in the same ad break, products danced across my screen to the sound of The Pogues, The Cure and Motorhead.

You're right. We deserve all that's coming.

Dunc said...

In fairness, I'm not entirely sure that Lemmy advertising beer really counts as "selling out"...

The other question you have to ask is: who actually owns the rights? In a lot of cases, it's not the artists, it's their bastard publishing companies.

Having said that, complaining that music which was brought to you by the fucking music industry is being used to sell crap is, well... I'm actually at a loss for a metaphor. It was always just another commercial product. If you think of it as some kind of cultural marker of rebelliousness, you're the sucker - that was just the marketing pitch. I mean, come on - the fucking Sex Pistols? Every bit as cynically manufactured for commercial appeal as The Monkees, only without ever producing anything as genuinely subversive as Head.

(Full disclosure: I'm a folkie of the "if you're getting paid, it's not really folk music" variety...)

john b said...

People who watch more than seven hours a day are more common than those of us who watch less than an hour.

I initially mis-parsed this sentence as a rather surprising claim about class...

merrick said...


I kinda know what you mean with Lemmy. He has the Keith Richards amorality thing that sets him apart. But still, actually appearing in an ad yourself is actively donning the puppet strings (he's done it before; as has Mr Eco-aware Sting in an advert for luxury cars) and that is at the very least somewhat un-rock n roll.

However, I don't think you're right to say it was just another commercial product. Certainly, it is to the industry, but not to the artists. Many people start making music because they have something to say, they are trying to impart something inspiring, affirming, informing. That it had to be sold to be heard by a lot of people necessitated the involvement of industry profiteers, but that doesn't negate the artists intent.

By the same token, organic wholefoods has to be sold by profit making shops, and if they don't cut it on the balance sheet they go out of business. Yet still I feel there was a philosophical betrayal if Suma sold themselves to Nestle.

However much they were marked and manipulated, there is no denying that at the time the Sex Pistols themselves were writing and performing because they had something they genuinely wanted to say. They expressed a discontent and an anger at conformity and a crackling desire to tear down complacent establishment, or at least splatter sewage over its polished surfaces.

merrick said...

John, no, you got it right. I watch less than an hour of TV a day because I am respectable, elegant and refined unlike the uncouth hoi polloi.

Dunc said...

I'm pretty sure Lemmy (and a heck of a lot of other people) went into rock and roll because (a) it beats a shitty factory job, (b) you can go to work drunk and / or wasted and nobody minds, and (c) you get laid more often. He's expressed this very clearly in a number of interviews over the years. Fuck, he advertised insurance for a while. His reasoning? Simple - they paid him enough. That's the reality of rock and roll - always has been, always will be. The thing I respect about Lemmy is that he doesn't bullshit about it. (Well, that and getting thrown out of Hawkwind for taking drugs. Now that is an achievement!)

"They expressed a discontent and an anger at conformity and a crackling desire to tear down complacent establishment, or at least splatter sewage over its polished surfaces."

Yeah, they were so non-conformist and determined to tear down the complacent establishment that they signed a two-year contract with EMI, first chance they got. Not only did they suck Satan's cock, they were banging on his door begging for the opportunity. Very fucking punk, I'm sure.

Sting is (and probably always was) just a wanker. Pretty good bassist and lyricist, but a wanker nonetheless.

bird behind the bar said...

As a musician myself, I can agree with both sides. As an artist, I have to make a living. The fact that I am a musician does not give me automatically higher moral status or obligations. An artist signed to a commercial label is a product the moment they sign on the dotted line. As a person, I have made a decision not to take money or profit from any enterprise I don't agree with. It means I'm skint, but smug, but has nothing to do with the fact that I am a musician. Music means so much to people, but sometimes by putting their own meaning on the music they love they are not aware that that may not be the meaning it has to the musician. Perhaps in a better-meaning way this is appropriation in the same way as commercial appropriation (or the political appropriation by party politics)?

Dunc said...

The funny thing is that pretty much all of the musos I know (with the exception of a couple of hard-core "trad" folkies) dream of getting their tracks picked up by TV and advertising, because it's about the only way of actually making any money in music these days. Record / download sales pay virtually nothing unless you're huge, and touring isn't exactly a money-maker either.

merrick said...

Birdbehindthebar, I absolutely agree that being a musician doesn't give you higher moral status or obligations. However, what I'm talking about is the way that artists who appeared to take a certain stand go and undermine it.

There is a big difference between having people pay to see your work, and using your work as a way to make people pay for something entirely unrelated.

Putting popular music to adverts is certainly appropriation. Marketing and advertising finds what we love and desire, then attaches whatever junk they're selling to that desire in order to make us buy it. Hence the use of the slogan 'Love Product X, Love Life' and slightly different variants all the time. Making you feel open and compliant to Megacorp because they're playing tunes that you love feels kinda like a grubby-coated bloke in the park asking kids if they want to see his puppies.

I'm sure you're right in thinking that people attach meaning to music that wasn't intended by the artist. But sometimes the artists do regard their music as something other than a marketing tool for margarine, they do believe it's about something more real and would lose that power - the point of it existing in the first place - if it were just a soundtrack to an ad.

A couple of years ago Cadillac wanted The Doors' Break On Through for an ad. John Densmore refused, saying

"People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music. I've had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music, other people say they know someone who didn't commit suicide because of this music... On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That's not for rent."

merrick said...


Sting, a good lyricist? I'll have some of what you're smoking.

Curious Nick said...

Sidenote: It is a little known fact that Sting earned his nickname because, much like the domestic cat, he has a barbed penis.