Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Pretenders on Hold

Spoiler alert: This is about pop, not politics. It’s too exhausting to continually plant sunflower seedlings one morning and then go out the next morning to see how many have been eaten by snails.

I heard a Pretenders song last week called Back on the Chain Gang. It’s not particularly catchy an up-tempo sad/romantic/angry song that makes you grateful for rock, and I love the lines, “I found a picture of you/Those were the happiest days of my life/Like a break in the battle was your part/In the wretched life of a lonely heart.” You simply don’t hear “wretched” nicely nestled in a rock song. I listened and I re-discovered another song in that messy music knot that is in each of our brains, every song with a little thread exposed that you can pull, untangle, and wind up for another performance.

The down side here is that Chrissie Hynde was keeping me company while I was on hold for American Express customer service. This morning, while I was waiting for a human at the Kaiser pharmacy, my accompaniment was an instrumental version of a 1980’s song, Saved by Zero (a song with an amusing title to hear while on hold with a health care organization). The instrumental was sick-making and this blip of modern rock was sounding an awful lot like Muzac. Sometime in the early ‘90’s or so this elevator music service died, and the relentlessly skipping instrumentals of Pat Boone’s indigestible Hot Diggity Dog Diggity (a favorite of my orthodontist) was replaced by Duran-Duran singing Rio.

Be it an original song or a cover, the gap in our public time that might otherwise be occupied by—holy moly!--silence has been filled in with music from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s that is an emotional thwack for those of us in early middle age. Worse, the songs now being used in commercials for products marketed by big corporations are seriously evocative songs that use your emotional history for a sales pitch, so that the company doesn’t have to do expressive heavy lifting. It’s a nifty back door to hook me and wheedle me, to take a little of my soul away like those fish that don’t kill things but simply take a bite and run away.

I noticed this trend when that cruise line used Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, with well-timed voice-overs and editing to take out rough lyrics like “With the liquor and drugs/And the sex machine” and references to torture films and having it in your ear. So now Led Zeppelin sells Cadillacs, The Who sells Humvees, and for a while Devo sold Target (okay, so Devo isn’t a big deal). I wonder if the bigger the song’s “Whoa is that great” is in direct proportion to how expensive is the product being pushed.

I’ve been wrestling with “I’m getting old” versus “Those weaseley cynical bastards have stolen my music.” Using popular music to sell stuff isn’t news, but the choices are now harder for me to take, and in the past advertising avoided certain songs. When Nike used the Beatles’ Revolution to sell shoes it was pulled pretty fast. No one used We’ll Meet Again or I’ll Be Seeing You to sell our parents Fords. Don’t these companies know that there are some songs that truly mean something? They are youth, passion, dancing until you are drenched with sweat, pissing your parents off, screwing up your hearing. Of course they know that it means something; that’s the entire point.

The idea of listening to Billy Idol sing Rebel Yell while I shop for groceries creeps me out; it must encourage me to hang around, cruise Safeway’s isles and buy more expensive frozen pizzas or spend those extra cents for organic bananas. Maybe it simply does have a good beat and you can dance to it, but it also has to do with your heart, and they are quite willing to take a bit of it.

I’ll tell you, though, if they steal Peter Gabriel’s magic, lyrical Salisbury Hill from me, I’m taking physical action.


At 10:26 AM, Blogger flika said...

That's funny, because I was just joking with a friend the other day that Peter Gabriel's "Salisbury Hill" is used in every other movie trailer.

At 8:34 PM, Blogger jon said...

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Thanks for the great posts...


At 10:21 AM, Blogger jon said...

We are trying to find good movie club to take the kids this weekend. Good movie club reviews are hard to find

I just stumbled onto your blog while looking. Seems to happen to me a lot since I am a knowledge mooch LOL


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