Pop Rocks

The Only Living [5-Star Safety Rated Sedan] In New York

Like most of Western society, I'd figured I was pretty much numb to the use of popular songs in commercials. I don't know how far back the practice dates, exactly, but I remember the anecdote from No One Here Gets Out Alive about Jim Morrison shooting down the suggested Buick campaign referenced in the title to this entry So...at least since 1968.

It reached critical mass in the 1980s, when bands like Genesis actually started lining up unreleased singles for use by the likes of Miller, and Nike famously used the Beatles' "Revolution" to hawk overpriced shoes.

Personally, I'd always counted on my affinity for (mostly) radio-absent musical acts to leave me unscathed. And that (mostly) held true, until last weekend...

Oh, I sympathized with those stung by Wrangler's inept usage of CCR's "Fortunate Son," or Pogues fans incensed at Subaru's co-opting of "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," but still managed to sidestep the resultant personal catastrophe (and my favorite Pogues song is still "A Pair of Brown Eyes," anyway). And then, during my desultory viewing of this weekend's NFL playoff games, I saw this:

I don't expect others -- or Honda -- to care about my attachment to "The Only Living Boy in New York." It was an important song to me during a period in my 20s...hell, we all have songs like that, and I know its new status as the soundtrack for a car commercial doesn't change that association. My wife said as much, telling me I was making a big deal out of nothing.

It was while biting my tongue to keep from saying what I really felt (that it was easy for her to talk since no car company was about to break down Dar Williams' door), that I recalled the words of Tom Waits:

When I was a kid, if I saw an artist I admired doing a commercial, I'd think, "Too bad, he must really need the money." But now it's so pervasive. It's a virus. Artists are lining up to do ads. The money and exposure are too tantalizing for most artists to decline. Corporations are hoping to hijack a culture's memories for their product. They want an artist's audience, credibility, good will and all the energy the songs have gathered as well as given over the years. They suck the life and meaning from the songs and impregnate them with promises of a better life with their product.

Should the fact you can hear "Do You Realize?" in a Land Rover commercial take away from your enjoyment of the Flaming Lips' music? I don't know. I know I don't like hearing my favorite Simon and Garfunkel song sandwiched between ten minute viewing blocks of steroid-fueled goons running into each other on Sundays, but I usually watch games with the sound off, anyway.

And let's not get started on that Howlin' Wolf Viagra commercial.

We've become inured to "Lexus Presents..." and the like at concerts because they're impossible to escape. More to the point, they're the norm. Acts like Tom Petty, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, and BRUUUCE that eschew corporate sponsorship are the exception rather than the norm. That Subaru "punk rock" ad got a lot of attention at the time, but these days "indie" bands line up for a shot at selling VWs and iPods as a matter of standard musical trajectory. It's kind of like when your first single is a cover, in that it doesn't really lend itself to career longevity.

Those of you who disagree, feel free to name a song by Orgy that isn't "Blue Monday," or discuss Feist's non-"1234" discography.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar