Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] NMOC Selling Out

Gerald McDowell gfmcdowell@getatlas.com
Sun, 13 Oct 2002 16:43:02 -0500

Hi all,

I haven't posted to the list in a while, but the recent discussion about commercialism sparked 
my interest enough to do so.

I just wanted to say how heartbroken I would be if the Oils or any band that means (almost) 
as much to me were to allow their music to be used for the purpose of a commercial.  It's 
one thing to play at a sporting event, perhaps a band likes that sport, fair enough.  It's one 
thing to allow one's music to be used in a movie, maybe they like that director or the stars 
involved or the story itself.

It's entirely a different matter, however, to allow one's music to be cheapened by use in a 
commercial.  Do they have the legal right to do so?  Of course, provided their record 
company hasn't swindled them out of that right along with so many others.  But I do not think 
they have a moral right to do so.  Once that song is out there, it entwines itself in our lives, 
our consciousness, and ultimately into our memories.  Once it appears in a commercial, it 
sullies our perception of it.  It wipes away our memories of that great summer, or the girl we 
had a crush or who loved the song, or whatever memories we had of it.  It replaces all those 
most human memories that we had set to that music with images of cola products and 
sneakers and improved toilet cleansers and cruise ship nirvanas (oh, Iggy).  It makes us as 
cheap and tawdry as the commercials themselves, a little bit at a time.

Of course I don't mean stuff like N*Sync or anything on those lines.  When I saw the 
Backstreet Boys (or maybe it was N*Sync, who cares?) doing Burger King ads, I didn't 
scream (like when I heard Led Zeppelin songs in a Cadillac commercial), I didn't cry (like 
when Jimi Hendrix songs were sent off to the musical glue factory), and I didn't get angry for 
days (like when I heard what that the former members of the Dead Kennedys tried to get 
Jello Biafra to drop his objections to the use of Holiday In Cambodia in a Dockers ad).  No, I 
just hit the mute button, picked up a magazine, and waited for the damn commercials to be 
over with.  Why?  Because some groups are obviously about commerce.  There is no other 
reason for Brittney Spears to be elevated to fame and fortune, except to become more 
famous and amass more fortune.

When I first heard the Sting/Moby argument that it was a good way to get their music out 
there, I agreed with it.  But the more I think about it, the more hollow it rings.  They're still 
putting their music on a product.  They're still warping the image in the minds of people to 
associate that piece of music with that car, or that beer or whatever the advertiser wants you 
to buy.  Does it matter if the reward is a big wad of cash or if it's just more record sales?  Not 
to me.  Sorry, I'm pretty open-minded about most things, but whenever somebody stoops to 
the level of corporate shill, they have no more credibility to me.  As Bill Hicks said, "You're 
another whore at the capitalist gang-bang...  And every word that comes out of your mouth is 
like a turd falling in my drink."  Living on what I live on (and I don't have it too bad), it's real 
hard for me to feel sorry for anybody who's living on a mere five or ten times as much 
whining about their record sales slumping.  When do you have enough?  When does one 
stop and examine if maybe their lifestyle is too extravagant?  Not often in this culture, but I 
think it would help us all to try it sometime.

I'm glad the Oils wouldn't do something like that.  My enjoyment of their music is based not 
only on their outstanding musicianship, but on the fact that I can respect them, that I know 
they wouldn't do something as crass as a car commercial.  Would I lose respect for them?  
Absolutely.  Would I stop buying their albums?  Probably.  They're a wonderful anomaly in a 
culture bent on commerce.  You can buy their music, their concert tickets, their t-shirts.  
Good.  But their integrity isn't up for sale.  That's even better.

So thank you Midnight Oil, and Jello Biafra, and Tom Petty, and Tom Waits, and Pearl Jam, 
and Neil Young, and all the other musicians who don't sell out.  I truly feel sorry for the kids 
coming up today, who live surround by brands and ads.  Will they see that life doesn't 
revolve around buying things, that music can be made simply for the love of making music or 
entertaining people?  Maybe.  I hope so.  But I feel confident of one thing:  the people with 
the deep pockets will do whatever they can to keep those kids and everybody else mystified.  
To keep them lusting after that dollar, to never be content and to see that behavior in others 
as normal and even preferable.  Whether or not they succeed is up to the rest of us.


"There was no use in pretending
No magic left to hear
All the music gave me
Was a craving for lite beer
As I walked out of the arena
My ears began to ring
And money became king"
  --Tom Petty, "Money Becomes King"