Maybe I’m jaded, maybe I’m unprincipled, or maybe I’ve just completely internalized the wanton commodification of art, but I can’t find it in me to be outraged whenever I hear a favorite song in a commercial. These days, for bands old and new, it’s a way to be heard and maybe make a little money. Any shock has just worn off for me. Jonathan Richman’s music advertised rum, Das Racist did Kmart, Hunx and His Punx hocked bifocals for Lenscrafters, and The Buzzcocks were featured in commercials for both Subaru and the AARP. Clearly, “respectable” artists gotta make that paper, too.
But esteemed music in major ad campaigns hasn’t always been old hat. In 1987, Nike purchased the rights to The Beatles’ “Revolution,” (from the always tasteful Michael Jackson, no less), for a then-unprecedented half a million dollars. The remaining Beatles were so opposed to the use of the song they attempted to sue, but before the artists themselves took action, the backlash among fans was already intense. The letter below is an absolutely blistering condemnation of Nike’s use of the song, so much so that it’s rumored to hang framed at Nike’s corporate office. The guy is really mad.
March 30, 1987
3900 SW Murray
Beverton, OR 97005
Dear Sir or Madam:
This letter of complaint is in response to a very nauseating advertisement of yours which I saw on television yesterday. From your complete lack of taste you have created a commercial for your “Michael Jordan” shoes which exploits, defiles and utterly insults Beatles’ fans, and all others of musical distinction. Your debasement of the Beatles’ song, “Revolution”, in the commercial ad is apparently indicative of your lack of integrity as a business. Your tactic, obviously, is to use the Beatles’ universal popularity to sell your product. Have you sunk that low? “Is nothing sacred anymore?”, as the cliche’ goes? Your only motive is to make more money for your greedy selves, and in the process you seemingly could not care less that you have trampled and befouled the precious memories of millions and millions of people throughout the entire world. Your kind makes me puke; you low, vacuous, malodorous perverts. Your dearth of sensitivity is equaled only by your plethora of obnoxiousness. To your credit, you have waited nearly seven years since the death of John Ono Lennon; but it was obviously not done out of respect (Huh? What’s that?) for the deceased.
Throughout my high school years as a basketball player, on to my college years, and up to present day, I have bought your athletic shoes. However, as of this very day, I can assure you that I, and many of my friends, will never, EVER, contribute in any way whatsoever to your sickeningly corporate-selling tactics. You know, with people like you in the world, euthanasia has untapped possibilities.
Thank you, and I hope you choke.
Very untruly yours,
I have to say, on some level, I admire this guy. Sure it’s self-righteous, but it also shows a resilience in the face of cultural capitalism. He’s uncynical, still truly believing in the sacredness of music. It’s a utopian idea—art protected from commodification—and I sort of like the idea that there might still some folks out there this mad about commercialization (perhaps, though, the use of The Kinks’ “Picture Book” in that Hewlett-Packard commercial sent him over the edge of sanity).
Me, though, I’m too broke to be principled. I’m well aware that I have my price. Hank, can I get an “amen?”
Via Letters of Note