Amoeblog


COULD SOMEONE DIRECT ME TO THE CROSSROAD?

Posted by Charles Reece, February 8, 2009 09:44pm | Post a Comment
I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
Asked the lord above "Have mercy now
save poor Bob if you please"
-- Robert Johnson, "Cross Road Blues"
Corporate-manufactured popular music aka The Mainstream is like a ninja, everywhere and yet hidden to me. The best place to hide from my ears is on the radio, out in the open. Thus, out of curiosity, I caught a bit of the Grammy Awards tonight. (It's still on as I write this: Smokey Robinson is currently teaming up with Jamie Foxx).  Here's something that I saw:
I've never been a fan of Stevie Wonder. In fact, I hold him responsible for the moribund course R&B has been on since he first appeared -- all that meaningless vocal gyration that's called winning on American Idol.  Just when I thought his music couldn't get any less soulful, he surprised me with the above. That's little Stevie performing with Generation Next's version of the Hanson Brothers. I'm guessing the Jonas Brothers are some spin off from a NIckelodeon or Disney Channel show.  Why is it that the more famous and successful a star gets, the more likely he or she has no concern for artistic integrity? I can understand why some up and coming bar band would be willing to sell one of their songs to an ad agency, but a rich artist who doesn't need the money? Hell, a Grammy appearance probably doesn't even pay, rather it's about exposure -- as if Stevie fucking Wonder needed exposure!  Anyway, his appearance reminded me of an old essay by John Densmore, drummer for The Doors.  He wrote:
Apple Computer called on a Tuesday--they already had the audacity to spend money to cut "When the Music's Over" into an ad for their new cube computer software. They want to air it the next weekend, and will give us a million and a half dollars! A MILLION AND A HALF DOLLARS! Apple is a pretty hip company...we use computers.... Dammit! Why did Jim (Morrison) have to have such integrity?

I'm pretty clear that we shouldn't do it. We don't need the money. But I get such pressure from one particular bandmate (the one who wears glasses and plays keyboards).

"Commercials will give us more exposure," he says. I ask him, "so you're not for it because of the money?" He says "no," but his first question is always "how much?" when we get one of these offers, and he always says he's for it. He never suggests we play Robin Hood, either. If I learned anything from Jim, it's respect for what we created. I have to pass. Thank God, back in 1965 Jim said we should split everything, and everyone has veto power. Of course, every time I pass, they double the offer!

It all started in 1967, when Buick proffered $75,000 to use "Light My Fire" to hawk its new hot little offering--the Opel. As the story goes--which everyone knows who's read my autobiography or seen Oliver Stone's movie--Ray, Robby and John (that's me) OK'd it, while Jim was out of town. He came back and went nuts. And it wasn't even his song (Robby primarily having penned "LMF")! In retrospect, his calling up Buick and saying that if they aired the ad, he'd smash an Opel on television with a sledgehammer was fantastic! I guess that's one of the reasons I miss the guy.

[...]

If I had been the drummer for the Grassroots, it probably wouldn't have cut me to the core when I heard John Lennon's "Revolution" selling tennis shoes...and Nikes, to boot! That song was the soundtrack to part of my youth, when the streets were filled with passionate citizens expressing their First Amendment right to free speech.

[...]

So it's been a lonely road resisting the chants of the rising solicitations: "Everybody has a price, don't they?" Every time we (or I) resist, they up the ante. An Internet company recently offered three mil for "Break on Through." Jim's "pal" (as he portrays himself in his bio) said yes, and Robby joined me in a resounding no! "We'll give them another half mil, and throw in a computer!" the prez of Apple pleaded late one night.

Robby stepped up to the plate again the other day, and I was very pleased that he's been a longtime friend. I was trying to get through to our ivory tinkler, with the rap that playing Robin Hood is fun, but the "bottom line" is that our songs have a higher purpose, like keeping the integrity of their original meaning for our fans. "Many kids have said to me that 'Light My Fire,' for example, was playing when they first made love, or were fighting in Nam, or got high--pivotal moments in their lives." Robby jumped in. "If we're only one of two or three groups who don't do commercials, that will help the value of our songs in the long run. The publishing will suffer a little, but we should be proud of our stance." Then Robby hit a home run. "When I heard from one fan that our songs saved him from committing suicide, I realized, that's it--we can't sell off these songs."

I'm not sure that Densmore's correct about it being greed per se that's the reason for wealthy stars "selling out," rather it's that such stars are merely the lights being powered by the cultural industry's battery. It's doubtful that Wonder sees any difference between his music and the corporate channels through which its disseminated. His aesthetic image is no different from the marketed one. That's why he, Sting, Elton John, Phil Collins or whomever can be used interchangeably on Disney soundtracks. Their star power is the result of hamsters running on a wheel.

Yeah, yeah, yeah
You can take my soul
Take my soul
I want it all, yeah
-- The Cult, "King Contrary Man"

Relevant Tags

John Densmore (3), Culture Industry (1), Star Power (3), Stevie Wonder (21), Spectacle (9), Music Criticism (10), Television Criticism (12)