Punk Rock Cruise
I’m an old-skool punk rocker. When I was young, all I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and my folks wouldn’t give it to me. After I went to their schools, and their churches, and their institutional learning activities†1.1. For me, and most punks, the thought of hearing punk music in commercials leads to ironic laughter and looking for the joke with a microscope. †1.2
To give you an idea of punk rock from my perspective, the quintessential punk show I’ve seen was in Incline Village†1.3, NV, above a Mexican Restaurant in a bar that looked like some family’s play room. The band was The Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program.†1.4 They only had a few songs, but they stopped and started each of them at least four times, breaking halfway through to fight about who was off beat or out of tune. An hour-long show and they didn’t complete a single song. Now, that’s punk rock!
There is a punk rock edict†1.5 that the music espouses: Fuck The Man! Anti-establishment, anarchistic, rebellious. As far back as 1969, when Iggy and the Stooges were searching to destroy†1.6 and the MC5 were encouraging listeners to kick out the jams, motherfucker, †1.7 the idea had been that of rebellion against the powers that be: Government, Religion, Military and Corporations. And your parents, if they agreed with the System. So hearing punk rock songs in commercials seems like a sell-out. Of course, by 1979, when Sex Pistols came out with “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” †1.8 (the message reprised in their 1996 Filthy Lucre Live reunion tour †1.9), punk had expanded its audience from angry working class heroes†1.10 and anarchists to include amped-up frat boys and girls looking to piss off daddy.
So is it punk rock to have the music in commercials? Pepsi has opted for “Ça Plane Pour Moi” by Plastic Bertrand†1.11 in their ad with a guy bouncing on a huge Pepsi logo ball down Lombard St. (the second crookedest street after Wall St.), as opposed to The Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized.” Makes sense. However, the translation from the Belgian song is basically about a drunk who gets thrown out by his girl (“You are the King of the couch! She told me in passing”). Moreover, the music for the French punk song was lifted from Elton Motello’s “Jet Boy, Jet Girl”†1.12 in which he sings about a boy giving him head and then leaving him for a girl. Put to the Pepsi ad — and among the cola company’s other ad campaigns — it makes a certain amount of sense.
Still, the question of whether a band has sold-out or just became successful has always been posed. Witness Chumbawamba. Who can forget the anthemic cry of “Tubthumping”: “You take a whiskey drink, you take a vodka drink”†1.13 that was chanted in every bar, frat house and ‘alternative’ radio station. Sales were in the millions, but now they are one of the most common of bands relegated to Amoeba Records’†1.14 used CD bin because the rest of the album was too punk for the mainstream audience turned-on by the drinking song. The rest were thinking songs. The rest of the album was Crass, by which I mean, of course, the band from which Chumbawamba evolved. They sang against Thatcher’s Britain and Reagan’s America. They sang songs like “Reality Asylum / Shaved Women”, “Bloody Revolutions / Persons Unknown” and “How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of 1000 Dead? / The Immortal Death” from albums like “Stations of the Crass”, “Penis Envy” and “Christ – The Album”. †1.15
While many people saw Chumbawamba as Crass selling out, I figure that they managed to get millions of people that never would have heard their message, once or twice before burning that one song and regifting. They get knocked down, but they’ll get up again.
Similarly, I see the usage of punk rock music in commercials that are run on Disney TV, The Family Channel, and Animal Planet, as being the ultimate in punk rock irony. But then there are the inexplicable choices some advertisers are making. Like choosing Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” for a cruise line. Apparently they just went with the driving catchy beat and the title. Now, every time I think about taking a cruise, I can’t help but visualize the opening scene from Danny Boyle’s debut film “Trainspotting”, †1.16 wherein Ewan MacGregor runs down cobblestone alleys, jumping fences and seeing babies crawl across the ceiling. The song is perfectly apt for the movie. The commercial, not so much. Written when Iggy Pop and David Bowie were recovering from a plethora of drugs in Germany (“I still think stoned thoughts!” – Iggy Pop†1.17), the song has lyrics such as: †1.18
I’m worth a million in prizes
Yeah I’m through with sleeping on the sidewalk
No more beating my brains
With the liquor and drugs
I get the feeling that the message is “Quit heroin, take a cruise.”
More vexing than that is Levi’s Dockers choice of The Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia,” with lyrics like: †1.19
You’re a star-belly sneech
You suck like a leech
You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch
So you can get rich
But you’re boss gets richer off you
You’ll work harder with a gun in your back
For a bowl of rice a day.
Stating that he believes that the clothing company uses unfair business practices and sweatshop labor not unlike that mentioned in the song, front man Jello Biafra flat-out refused its usage in the commercial. Very punk rock. The rest of the band sued Biafra.†1.20 Still punk rock? Ironically, Biafra was not sued by Jell-O Brand Gelatin, but Green Jellö, now Green Jellÿ (the umlaut makes it an ‘o’ sound), was sued by Kraft Foods.†1.21
It was said by Gil Scott-Heron, in his poem of the same title, that the revolution will not be televised.†1.22 But I can’t help but wonder (as I can’t help but open this sentence like a “Sex in the City”†1.23 recap), has the revolution infiltrated the System? And if so, how long before it takes it down from the inside?
While I wait for the answer, I think I’ll take a whiskey drink, pick up heroin, quit it, take a cruise and kick back in my Dockers at the Holiday Inn, Cambodia. At any rate, I’m getting my own damned Pepsi!
Now that’s like hypnotizing chickens! – Iggy Pop, “Lust for Life”
The ironic part of this reference area is that many of the videos have been removed due to copyright claims by corporations such as WMG (Warner Music Group). How punk rock is that?
†1.3 Incline Village, NV
Nestled between 8000+ ft. Mt. Rose and 2000+ deep Lake Tahoe, and just a few miles from the California border, Incline Village, or as some call it, Income Village, it an ideal place for wealthy Bay Areans have a second home for that occasional weekend off.
†1.4 Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program
I’d have to The singer explained that if you were playing their CD loud, then the Jehovah’s Witness wouldn’t knock on your door. “It works for Mormons, too,” he added. They also do an ode to Reno bands, with the sparse and mockingly repetitive lyrics “Reno! Reno! Reno! Sparks! Sparks! Sparks!” Sparks is an immediate suburb of Reno. They do not seem to be the same as the Michigan duo on myspace.
†1.5 punk rock edict
Ironic, as edict means “an official order or decree issued by a sovereign or other authority; any authoritative proclamation or command.” Get it?
One of the things, aside from the music and ethics, about Crass, is that they freely encourage the distribution of their logo, designed by Dave King. According to Wikipedia.org: “the Crass logo represented an amalgamation of several ‘icons of authority’ including the Christian Cross, the swastika and the Union Flag, combined with a two-headed snake consuming itself to symbolise the idea that power will eventually destroy itself.”
†1.17 Iggy Pop, Interview
I tried to find a clip, but couldn’t. After recovering from drug addiction, Iggy responded to the interviewer’s question, about how different things must be, with “I still think stoned thoughts!”
†1.18 Iggy Pop, “Lust for Life”
Written and produced in Germany with David Bowie while they kicked heroin, cocaine and God knows what other addictions. The rhythm section was comprised of Hunt and Tony Sales, sons of famous kids’ show host Soupy Sales. The brothers later joined Bowie to form Tin Machine. Bowie subsequently “covered” many of the co-written songs, including “Neighborhood Threat” and “Tonight”, which he did as a duet with Tina Turner.
Lyrics from Lyrics.com
†1.20 Dead Kennedys v Dead Kennedies, Lawsuit
†1.21 Jell-O v. Green Jellÿ, Lawsuit
†1.22 Gil Scott-Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”
†1.23 Candace Bushnell, “Sex in the City“