Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"CSI", Sir Mix-a-Lot and Psychological Piracy

There are a lot of things an unemployed guy with a shoulder injury can do to fill his time: gobble painkillers; lie in bed with his wounded wing cushioned on a pillow; watch endless hours of TV. Whoopee.

Whilst convalescing in such a manner, I came to one undeniable conclusion. A conclusion, mind you, that was based strictly on careful observation, rational thought and bone-dry logic alone. The conclusion? BIG BROTHER (or maybe by now, his Big Grandson) IS SYSTEMATICALLY CONTROLLING US FROM THE BRAIN-PAN OUTWARD! Yessirree Bob. I swear, on England’s crop-circles and Al Capone’s lost vault, it’s happening as we speak. Or, read, rather.

I know. “Holy Vicodin!” you’re saying. “Left is flying higher than Rev. Jim on ‘Taxi’!” And while I do happen to be stoned on Vicodin just now, I assure you, there is a method to my drug-induced madness. Join me, won’t you, on the yellow brick road to the point?

It all comes down to music. Long ago, in a far-off land called America, TV was chock-full of original music. Each and every last frigging show on the boob tube, even McLean Stevenson’s, had its own unique theme song. Some shows’ theme songs even had lyrics, performed by notable singers like Sammy Davis Jr. (“Baretta”) or by actors trying to be singers, like the Brady Bunch Kids (well, you know). These theme songs helped us remember the shows and cajoled us into watching them. In those pre-iPod days, this meant something to us. “‘Cop Rock’ sucks like a Hoover upright,” we told ourselves, “but at least I can hear some snappy tunes!” Which is why, almost 30 years later, that lame John Denver rip-off theme song to “Grizzly Adams” is trapped between my ears, stuck on replay. Damn, how desperate were they to rip off John Denver? But I digress.

The party didn’t end with theme songs. Commercials, too, had more original music than Snickers has peanuts. Bright, crisp jingles which became embedded in the mind and made shopping yourself into debt fun! Everyone wanted “Chiquita” bananas, the “San Francisco Treat” (Rice-a-Roni), to “feel like a nut” (Mounds Bars) and to “be a Pepper!” (Dr. Pepper) And for those overzealous kids who tried to eat all these things in one night, Mom used “Mr. Clean! Mr. Clean!” to wipe them off the kitchen floor afterwards. Yes youngsters, back in the day, television—America’s cultural dipstick—was more musical than an Andrew Lloyd Webber extravaganza. “Huzzah!” cried the viewers, gathered ‘round their sets after a long day of spending. “Huzzah!” cried the corporate executives, as boxcars of cash rolled in. And everyone was happy. . .

Something is missing, right? Yup. The “forevermore” tag typically found at the end. That’s because Sinister Forces came along to mess up this shiny, happy arrangement. No one knows exactly why. Like rust and evolution, it just happened. Under normal circumstances, I studiously avoid the idiot box, so it has taken me longer to notice it. Just the other night, as a matter of fact, while I was perusing a copy of Maxim magazine. As I scanned the interview with Brooke Burke, searching for insights into the acting craft of this noted thespian, I heard the chorus from the Who’s classic “Who Are You” kick in. I glanced at my TV, expecting to see a documentary about the world’s greatest rock n’ roll band. Dumbass me.

Instead, I saw the mere opening credits of “CSI”. “C-frigging-SI”? The searing vocals of Roger Daltrey, the stampeding drums of Keith Moon, the pulsating bass of John Entwistle and the fiery guitar of rock genius Pete Townshend—reduced to a paltry TV theme song? For a show about pseudo-cops solving mysteries by chopping up dead people? What the phawk!

Then I remembered the drugs. I had been seeing and hearing interesting things lately. Like the time Heather Locklear crawled out of a “T.J. Hooker” episode, sat next to me in bed and. . .well, that’s another story. I chalked it up to an audio hallucination and returned to Maxim.

But it happened again. “Baba O’Reilly” used as the theme for “CSI: New York”. And again. “Pinball Wizard” used to sell Saabs. And again. A neutered Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby’s Got Back” pimping for Target’s Back to School sale. AAAARRRGGGHHH! Mommy, Mommy! Some bad men stole my music!

Years ago, some lameass record club I didn’t join had a slogan. “Music: the Soundtrack To Your Life.” Truer words were never spoken by a corporate entity trying to glom onto your Visa card. When you hear a familiar song, you should think of the subjects explored in the song’s lyrics. You should recall where you were, who you were with, and when you first heard the song. That’s what makes music a universally potent force. A 3-minute song can be a time capsule of thoughts, impressions and feelings.

Of course, commercial jingles and TV theme songs don’t quite measure up, artistically, to classic rock songs. But they can perform the same function. Years after the product or show has disappeared from the shelves or airwaves, that certain combination of notes and words can conjure up a long-gone place or face from the past. They become personal as well as cultural touchstones.

The problem is, America Incorporated has started to (blatantly) cheat. And it isn’t simply a matter of cut budgets with no money for original music anymore. By shanghaiing preexisting songs, they’re tapping into a ready-made bank of emotions, ideas and standards. Saab, the official automobile of who? The Who? Daltrey and Townshend have never officially endorsed the car, but the implication is there. Maybe this will prompt Baby Boomers to cough up for a Saab, but it might just do something else, too. Maybe a new generation of listeners will dismiss Tommy, because they won’t be able to hear it without having personal images induced by the songs supplanted by car ads. I hope not, but it’s possible.

This is not just a matter of artistic integrity, either. I wonder if the Target big-wig who green-lighted the use of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby’s Got Back” ever heard the original 1992 version of the song? Upon initial release, this tune, a baudy ode to full-figured gals, propelled its author to the top of the feminist Shit List. Come on, Target. It hasn't been that long. Maybe frumpy grandparents and Michael Jackson find the sight of preteens hip-hopping to decaffeinated Mix-a-Lot cute. But to this Gen X-er, it’s just plain weird.

This is psychological piracy. They’re swiping our memories, manipulating our feelings, stealing the soundtracks to our lives! This is George Orwell-1984-thought police stuff. Don’t let them do it. If you see one of these shows or commercials come on, close your eyes. Listen to the music. Replay your own private music videos. Fight the Power.

I’m going to go listen to the Who’s Ultimate Collection. Hopefully, it won’t be infected by psychological pirates from Hollywood or Madison Avenue. Although the sight of Marg Helgenberger go-go dancing to “Who Are You” in a silver bikini wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Sorry. That’s the Vicodin talking.


Blogger Cardman said...

Nicely done! On that note (hehe), I doubt John Bonham would approve of his beautiful drums of "been a long time" endorsing a Cadillac!! Although I think I did see Robert Plant in an Escalade the other day...

12:47 PM  
Blogger Doggie Extraordinaire's Mom said...

You're so right, John!

There are times when I can reminisce with friends my age about the commercials and jingles of my youth. I can't count how many times I worked into normal conversations, common phrases like, "Ancient Chinese secret," and "Calgon, take me away!" Remember the shock when you recognized the guy from the Dr. Pepper commercials in the movie American Werewolf in London? I can still sing all the words to the Tootsie Roll song, the Big Mac jingle, the "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" Coke anthem, and the Oscar Mayer weiner and bologna songs. What commercials from the last decade have that kind of staying power? None. Advertisers have gotten lazy.

When was the last time a commercial actually inspired you to do something, buy something, or go somewhere? To this day I am an anti-litter, anti-pollution nut because of that commercial with the Indian, standing on a hillside with garbage everywhere, and a tear rolling down his cheek. Where did Smokey the Bear go? Who are the PSA heroes of today?

3:45 PM  
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8:35 AM  
Anonymous Bloggeries said...

Of course they do it on purpose!!

Do you think the tune to "Baby got back" would work on a CSI ad? Probably not, but it works out great for back to school ads. The target audience for CSI is not the same target as someone needing school supplies. You just know some genius is behind the scenes estimating who would buy a Saab. Then all he has to do is jump back in time and find something that grabs that audience.

That said, I think the absolute worst about it all is how they turn our kids against us. We could give 2 squats about a fancy backpack for the kid to lug off to school. Just give them something that resembles an old feed sack, and send them on their way. Ohhh, but nooooo. They cannot do that. They have to convince our kids that "Tommy" is the clothing of choice for superstars, and it is available at the local Wally World. Turn our kids into begging and pleading with us to buy them the same thing that Paris Hilton is wearing.

7:48 AM  

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