Thursday, December 01, 2005

Oy, Mate

No better way to start this than by posting the first paragraph from this article in today's Guardian:

It will be the biggest sports event in German history. But yesterday it emerged that the lavish opening ceremony for next year's World Cup will be almost entirely devised by British artists - including Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno. Gabriel, who co-founded Genesis, is to be the musical director of the show in Berlin which will kick off the month-long tournament.

Now, I am looking forward to next year's World Cup as much as anyone I know, and I posted here about Eno recently, and I expected at some point to write about the tension between commercial success and selling out, but never did I expect to read the word's "Gabriel" and "Eno" and "World Cup" in the same sentence. Eno, btw, according to the first sentence of the next paragraph, is "composing a 2006 World Cup anthem." "Sven Goren Erickson's On Fire" (which he will be when England crash out in table play*)?" "Blank Frank" Lampard?

What amazes me is that the whole concept of selling out has been as devalued as once the music of someone branded a sell-out once was. I remember the furious eschatological angst over Eric Clapton's decision to do Michelob commercials, not whether he was a sell-out for signing (all agreed he was) but whether he needed to be dedeified for violation of sacred code.

Hopelessly romantic and dramatic and naive and solipsistic, I know, but real. What's remarkable is not only that selling-out is not a concern for today's rocksters, not not selling out is. Death Cab for Cutie scores an appearance on "The O.C," Delays first single becomes the background music of a diamond company's Christmas commercial last year, The Postal Service is sued by the US Postal Service over brand infringement, wins in court the right to the name, and then is hired by the USPS to provide music for their commercials.

Eric Clapton, of course, didn't have to worry about his next record contract, much less his next meal, or having to drive his gear around in a parent's borrowed minivan, or working as a waiter to make ends meet, when he took Anheiser-Busch's money, which is to say that I still have a residual issue with Clapton's decision (tainted by my never thinking him all that anyway, I suppose). I begrudged Clapton. I don't begrudge Death Cab for Cutie making while the making is good. Clapton was fattening on his success; DCfC was struggling to succeed. What about Gabriel and Eno now?

There's much to unpack here, and I'm not going to do it all at once, and I expect that the unpacking will take the form of recurring themes in subsequent posts. It is fair to compare and contrast music and musicians from 1980 and 2005, but it's imperative to consider the differences in how the marketing and delivery of that music to consumers has dramatically changed and how those changes have changed the way that music and musicians are judged. Life is much busier on our peripheral vision and noisier in our peripheral hearing and we are much more conditioned to absorb the constant commercialization of everything now: is there a rock musician whose choice to tie his art to a bottle of beer would now outrage us? I can't imagine Fugazi shilling for Pepsi. I'd be saddened, disappointed, but outraged? Not anymore.

*I'm just taunting the England fans among you - I don't think they'll crash out till the round of 16.


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