true blood and the newsroom, season finales
music friday: sly and the family stone, “qué será, será”

land of hope and commercials

I’ll start by admitting that not only is opinion divided on this issue among Bruce fans, but that I am in the minority. And, as will be clear, I’m not quite sure why this bothers me:

This is an advertisement for postseason baseball on TBS. The music on the video, and some of the visuals, is courtesy of Bruce Springsteen, from his inspirational song, “Land of Hope and Dreams”.

I’m not concerned with what was done to that great song to fit it into a two-minute time slot. Well, I’m concerned in that I think they botched it, but that’s not why I’m writing this. And I’m not concerned that Bruce has associated himself with baseball … he’s a longtime Yankee fan, he has played concerts at baseball parks (I saw one myself at China Basin back in 2003) … hell, he wrote “Glory Days”.

But, to the best of my knowledge, before this advertisement, Bruce Springsteen had never allowed his music to be used in such a manner. Bob Seger will tell us that Chevy trucks were like a rock, Michael Jackson would tell us to drink Pepsi, Lou Reed would pimp for a motorcycle brand he didn’t personally ride, but Bruce Springsteen didn’t do commercials.

You could argue that Bruce doesn’t need to sell his music to advertisers because he already has a gazillion dollars (which didn’t stop Michael Jackson). When asked why he did those Honda ads, Lou Reed said something to the effect of “if you liked my last album, shut up about the ads, because they helped pay for the music you liked”. If memory serves, Bob Seger said he was proud to have his music played in support of American workers and their products. Not a bad explanation, I admit.

You could even note that a few years ago, Bruce played the halftime show at the Super Bowl, an event which is about advertising as much as it is about anything.

You could point out that it’s not quite clear that Bruce is selling anything other than the greatness of baseball. I’d say you were full of shit, that he’s selling a TBS television show, but some have made this claim, nonetheless.

Many, perhaps even most, of the Bruce fans for whom I have the greatest respect are very happy to see this advertisement. They see it as a chance for Bruce to get his music out to a whole new audience, and they like the idea of seeing/hearing Bruce, no matter the context.

Finally, although I can’t recall the source and am using my fallible memory here, I seem to remember once reading Greil Marcus saying he liked hearing favorite pop songs in commercials, because it forced him to hear those songs in a new context.

Yes, I understand all of this. But the truth is, it bothers me that Bruce Springsteen has allowed his music to be used in a commercial.

(Obligatory disclosure: I hate advertising.)

Comments

Chris

This is one of my favorite Bruce songs, and I hate the fact that it's being used in a commercial. When I hear Seger sing the phrase "like a rock," it does make me think of a commercial (though I can't say I ever think about what product it "endorses"). I'm glad I fast-forward or mute every commercial on TV, for I don't want to associate Bruce's song with an ad. And on an additional note, I hate the Yankees, and wish the clip above didn't have a damn Yankee on it (whether Bruce likes them or not).

Cynthia

this would be one of those times I'm happy not to watch teevee in real time. commercials are ____________. (fill in expletive of choice.) also, Marcus is WRONG.

Steven Rubio

I could be mis-remembering what Greil said, but I don't think so, because I was taken with the argument at the time. It didn't describe my own feelings, but at least I understood what he was getting at. Again, if memory serves, he said only the greatest songs could withstand their presence in an ad. Good songs, mediocre songs, bad songs, they will all carry the imprint of the advertisement. As my sister notes, "Like a Rock" is no longer a Bob Seger song, it's an advertisement. But great songs still hold up.

Or something like that :-).

Hope you're doing as good as can be.

Geoff

So I guess Neil Young is the last man standing.

Steven Rubio

Good call.

Phil

Also relying on fallible memory, but more specifically I think Marcus said it forced you to confront whether or not the song could withstand such a context, a litmus test of sorts.

I mostly hate commercials. I'm indifferent to Springsteen. But I know I've loved hearing certain songs in certain commercials--some that I was very familiar with (Nico's version of "These Days"), some that I didn't know until the commercial (Nick Drake's "Pink Moon"). Commercials are usually so awful in the first place, a great song can only improve them for me. I don't think too much (at all, truthfully) about the artist's end of it.

Having said all that, I can appreciate that you'd feel let down.

Phil

(And I think the Neil Young Budweiser song is worse than what the worst ad executive could come up with using "Cinnamon Girl" or "Sugar Mountain" in any kind of commercial. I hate it that much--not directed at you, Geoff.)

Steven Rubio

I think you're right: a great song, or even a good one, can improve a commercial. It's what the commercial does for the song that upsets me.

scott

I've reduced my position on this over the years to an aesthetic argument: does the use of the song work? I know there are worthy (moral) arguments about whether it's a good idea in the first place, what it says about the corporate branding of every corner of the world we live in, etc. (and an artist will have an entirely different, and valid, perspective on all this), but truthfully, all I can really do as a person on the other end of the process is respond as a viewer and as a listener. I really kind of don't have a problem with it, I guess I'm saying. To clarify, though, I don't have a problem if a song is used well; if a song is used badly, if it seems entirely perfunctory, *that*, for me, is the problem -- not the fact in and of itself that someone decided to use (and someone decided to "sell") the song. I hate when a song is used poorly in a movie just as much as I hate when a song is used poorly in a commercial (and yet a lot of people would never think to complain about a song's usage in a movie, even if it was mangled beyond recognition... right, because it's not supposedly "selling" anything). I used to think that if I edited a music magazine -- I mean a bona fide "music magazine" with paid staff, one you could purchase on a news stand -- I would try to run a column wherein various writers would review current uses of pop music in commercials, tv shows, and movies. The only instruction to the reviewers would be: evaluate it for what it is, not for whether you believe it has the right to be there or not. For me complaining about the existence of advertising feels a little like complaining about the weather. If most advertisements are crap, that's not advertising's fault; it's the advertiser's fault. (I'd say I probably hate 85-90% of the usage of pop music I see in commercials, but I don't blame the idea or the form itself; the 10-15% that work do so because someone managed to use them in a way that is intelligent, weird, funny, whatever. Rarely "literal," though. I rate the Nike use of "Search and Destroy" as among the greatest; the thing was just so loud and ridiculous and odd... for some reason, it worked.)

scott

By the way -- I imagine Dave Marsh must be having a supercalifragalistic-size conniption over all this! (Either that, or he's come up with some convenient all-of-a-sudden justification.) I'm being a bit smart ass here, and I shouldn't be. I love Marsh, I've for years defended him against people who despise him (and I'm actually trying to find a copy of whatever is the latest version of his elongated Springsteen bio). But this is one of those high horses of his which he's always seemed kind of annoyingly "dead set" in his ways about. Definitely prefer Marcus's more open-ended approach here.

Steven Rubio

I suspect my entire position can be found in the very last sentence of the original post. I've tried to be sensible here, and whatever I ended up with, I've gotten some of the smartest comments I've had in a long time, so I'm really glad a discussion came out of it. Because I don't know that I could be a smart one here. Like Phil said, it's not hard to see why I feel let down. But the reasons aren't logical, they're emotional, based partly on my elevation of Bruce to a place he didn't necessary ask for, and partly on my knee jerk reaction to advertising.

I like the point you raise, about it being the advertiser's fault. The fault in my own position is that I really do feel the opposite way: it's advertising's fault. In my defense, at least I know how silly I am about this topic.

And it's not that I am unaware that there is something untenable in my differentiation between a song used in an advertisement and one used in a movie. I've spent a lot of time as a teacher over the years pounding on the (obvious) point that most popular culture is always also "selling" something. In my mind, when a movie uses a song, it is selling the movie, while when a song appears in a commercial, the song is selling a "product". I recognize, though, that I have to go through some complicated hoops to establish the so-called differentiation. (Not sure if this relates, but I hate product placement in movies, too, although I mostly just laugh at it.)

Perhaps ... and I don't want to speak unkindly of the dead ... but this stuff has been on my mind since the outpouring of praise for Tony Scott, who is noted for the way he brought the aesthetic of the commercial to the big screen, as if that's a good thing.

At this point, I'm just rambling. Somewhere in here I wanted to mention the ad which used "Lust for Life" ... I can no longer recall what the ad was for, which says something, but the musical opening to "Lust for Life" is perfect for a commercial, just as it was in Trainspotting, where I loved it. I "liked" the way the ad went from "Here comes Johnny Yen today" to a place later in the song, skipping right over "with liquor and drugs". (Checking something out for this comment, I found this, from The Onion, which I'd never seen before: http://www.theonion.com/articles/song-about-heroin-used-to-advertise-bank,1489/ ("Song About Heroin Used to Advertise Bank").)

Oh well, I have to quit typing at some point. I can't help my emotional reaction to this stuff, but I do know that when I read it six months from now, I'll think I sound like a little baby who lost his favorite toy.

scott

Well, I thank you for bringing this up and grappling with it in such an interesting way! I think I made the point too broadly perhaps about movies and commercials. I probably shouldn't suggest that they're entirely compatible in this respect. They're totally different things, and I'm much more hard-pressed to think of great examples of pop songs in commercials than I am in movies (it's probably not even close). If you're wrapped up in a movie already and a great song comes into it as well -- there's nothing to match that sort of thing. Commericals are obviously much more a fleeting kind of pleasure. I don't sit around watching TV waiting for a particular commercial to come up (though in the age of YouTube, if one is interesting enough...). Anyway -- I love this topic.

Phil

Definitely agree with Scott--purely on aesthetic grounds--that I'm much more bothered when a movie uses a song ineptly. Steven's selling-the-movie counterpoint is valid, but it's simply that I care so much more about movies than commercials. (Hardly a startling point.) I find it very easy to ignore commercials, as ubiquitous as they are; my mind has conditioned itself, most of the time, to look at them without processing them. The movie's right there, though, and commands 100% of my attention. (I won't launch into a long list of movie-song ineptness that really grated on me.)

Something came up on the message board the other day that's pertinent to this. It had to do with Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime." I'll link directly to the exchange rather than attempt to describe it--it's a few short posts and a couple of YouTube clips.

http://www.ilxor.com/ILX/ThreadSelectedControllerServlet?showall=true&bookmarkedmessageid=3742981&boardid=40&threadid=12092

Now that's a commercial that turns your head.

Steven Rubio

One thing I really appreciate about you guys is you get me to reconsider stuff I'd long rejected. I hadn't thought of Mungo Jerry in decades. Now I imagine I'll have that song in my head the rest of the day.

Oh well ... I can always try a trick I read once somewhere: when you can't get a song out of your head, sing the riff from "Kashmir" to yourself. Works every time! Of course, then I have the "Kashmir" riff in my head, and I don't know the cure for that.

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