What is Selling Out These Days?

As I creep slowly up the music business food chain and have thought about the state of the music business, I have had to think about what the term selling out means.  I grew up when the music business was healthy.  I also grew up following the punk and independent music scene quite closely.  There were people who “sold out” and who “didn’t sell out”.  It meant various things to various people, and was never clearly defined, but it was more so than today.  Lou Reed made a Honda commercial, but I don’t think anyone could ever accuse him of selling out.  Meanwhile a band like Fugazi never even allowed themselves to be interviewed in magazines that had booze or tobacco ads.  Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, did a butter ad a couple years ago, but he claimed this was only to get Public Image Ltd, a very avant garde band, back to making records.  Sometimes things stick to artists and sometimes they don’t.   Really I think you have to measure someone’s whole career and determine if they have artistic integrity.

Back in the renaissance,  in Italy, there was a rich and powerful family named the Medici family.  They funded the arts heavily.  They were patrons of such artists as Michaelangelo.   Basically in one way or another artists need their Medici family.  It is preferable if this is done through funding through the general public, as lots of small patrons cannot really force an artist to compromise their vision. 

However, what do you do in an age when no one is buying records the way they once were?  Art costs money to make.  Bills still need to be paid. 

You see more and more artists making corporate partnerships in order to survive.  More and more artists also appear in commercials as mainstream radio has been neutered almost completely.   This makes me uncomfortable because large corporations often act unethically.  Part of the purpose of art is to speak truth to power.  It becomes harder to do, though it is not impossible, if an artist is funded by that power.  No one will accuse John Lydon anytime soon of biting his tongue.  But he was well established by the time he made a commercial.  I do think that the relationship between corporations and artists is corrupting,  if not to every artist, then at least in the industry overall.  If it is hard to pinpoint exactly who has been corrupted,  it does seem like there is less art speaking truth to power than during the 60’s or the punk rock era. 

I don’t have the answer to these questions.  I just think it is worth thinking about.  I do think that it is important that individuals support artists with their own money through buying of records, supporting radio stations that don’t have corporate playlists, etc.  In a capitalist society you vote with your money.  If you want art that means something you need to be willing to pay for it.  I am still a person that buys almost all of my records, because I view it as investing in an art that means something to me.  Music has, if not literally saved my life, definitely kept me sane.  I want there to continue to be artists that aren’t afraid to speak their mind and to expose their soul. 

Tour Poetry Day 5: On the Way to the Void

A hotel breakfast room TV commercial
A family dances under a disco ball
While camping in the woods
All thanks to their new car!
A small piece of my brain dies
I creep one step closer to death
And it wasn’t even the worst of them!
How could so much time and money
Go into something so stupid?
I’m not really asking that
I both know why and will never know why
Even monkeys slinging shit at the zoo
Must serve some kind of base evolutionary function
This was just nonsense
On the way to the void

Advertising Absurdity


The above link is to Axe’s Make Love Not War Super Bowl ad.  I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, so I am only just becoming aware of this ad as of a week or two ago during some kind of online streaming.  If this ad’s purpose is to make you give up all hope and surrender to our corporate overlords, it might have achieved its purpose.  “Please Lord”, I thought after watching this ad, “give me a lobotomy.”

I was reading Rebecca’s Solnit’s Landscapes for Politics this morning. She was talking about a company that built Trident missiles during the Cold War and how they used famous landscape paintings as their public image.  This is even more absurd because the company was polluting those very landscapes. 

Companies will co-opt anything.  They are like giant leviathans that will eventually swallow anything in their path for any purpose that they deem useful.  No art or culture is safe from this.  One only needs to think of all of the 60’s counter culture rock songs that have been used in car commercials. 

The best that we can hope for is that artists, musicians, comedians, and writers will stay one step ahead of the game.  We need people that will produce new works that will point to the absurdity in our country and the injustice and insanity that often results from this.  This is because eventually all of these works run the risk of being integrated into the system.  

Red Moose Jumps Car During Wet T-Shirt Contest

I think I could work at an ad agency.  I’ve already got a few ideas for great ads.  In one we show how refreshing beer is by filming the beer as if it were a woman at a wet t-shirt contest.  In other a I would sell a hard liquors while showcasing its dangerous bad boy image by having a tough looking red moose leap from building to building in a city.  I was also thinking of a cool ad for Chevy where a daredevil drives one of their cars backwards off a ramp. 

The above all sound pretty fucking stupid don’t they?  They are all real ads that air nightly while I watch the Colbert Report on Comedy Central’s free streaming.  Every time I watch real TV I sit dumbstruck at the ads that appear.  Who thinks these things up?  These are ideas that any stoner could concoct about three water bongs in.  Many of today’s ads feature what seems to me to be free association.  It’s like they are so desperate to get our attention that they will put anything up there.  And these are the people that make all of the money!

The worst ads are the ones that try to make you feel emotional.  They will tell some inspirational or heartbreaking story with really sappy strings, only to show the company name at the end.  This is nothing but crass manipulation.  Another kind of common manipulation is when they hint that if you don’t use their product you won’t get laid.  When I watch ads on TV I don’t know whether to laugh at the absurdity or cry at the wave of stupid that has swept into our homes every night. 

I am convinced that the most important thing about selling a TV ad to a company is making them believe your bullshit.  Most ads of today are random, shameless, or just plain idiotic.  How rare is it that you actually see anything clever or something that tells you something about the actual product that is being pitched?  I am convinced that in these ad sales meetings it is all about whoever is selling the ad making whoever represents the company believe that they know what the hell they are talking about. 

Ok, the ads above were really used.  But I do have a good one in mind that will work for any product.  I think there should be a fluorescent yellow bear on a surf board surfing on lava coming down the side of a volcano.  It doesn’t mean anything, but you just might stare at the TV long enough to wonder what the hell is going on, just in time for the company logo to pop up.  

A World Without Ads

I’m sure some of you this fair Saturday night are out shooting whiskey and stealing babies from cribs.  I’m going on tour in two weeks and until then I want to be home with my dog as often as my schedule will allow.  I’ve spoken before that I have some introvert tendencies.  As much as I love being out on the road, seeing the world and meeting new people, I also need time away for myself to let my imagination wander.  I need that balance.  What’s he building in there?

Tonight I’m part of the large trend in binge watching TV on Netflix.  I happen to be watching season two of The Killing.  This show is great, but what’s even greater are no commercials.  One of the many reasons that I don’t have cable TV is that I don’t want the world of advertisements entering my home.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a mass consumer like everyone else.  I’ve been trained well by society.  However, I don’t need my intelligence insulted in my own home, at least not by anyone that isn’t a friend or loved one calling me on the phone.  .

Last summer I was in La Rochelle, France.  I was walking around the town and I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.  All of a sudden it dawned on me; there were no billboards or mainstream commercial advertising anywhere.  There were hand painted signs on shops.  There were store windows displaying appealing looking goods.  There definitely was plenty of commerce going on.  However, the kind of gross bombastic advertising that we accept as part of our daily life didn’t exist in that town.

Just remember that we don’t have to accept things the way they are.  We get so used to things being one way that sometimes we fail to imagine an alternative.  Somewhere around the bend there could be a better world for us;  a world where we don’t have to spend every night being told about boner pills and waffle tacos.