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Saturday, October 15, 2005


If you had told me when I was 16 that someday Cadillac would be using Led Zeppelin to sell their cars I would have laughed and laughed and laughed. My eyes would water and turn red (or redder) and I would double over from the pain in my side from the abdominal strain. Soon I would have trouble breathing and the laughter would turn more into wheezing and gasping and without proper oxygen flow, I would start to convulse until my legs would weaken beneath me and I would lose my balance and fall to the floor, where, heaving and writhing, I would start gagging, my face darkening and swelling as the pressure of air and blood inflated my head. Soon a full body spasm would take over. No air getting through at all. Just a twitching, swollen, blood red mass squeaking on the floor. Then it would all end suddenly as my head would pop like cherry tomato.

Yep, that's what would have happened had you told me at 16 that someday Cadillac would be using Led Zeppelin to sell their cars.

It's been three years since I first heard the unmistakable boom of Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" used as the sonic exclamation point on an ad for the Cadillac CTS. I'm sure it's working out great for both the car maker and the musicians, and I suspect that Zeppelin's legendary manager Peter Grant even from the grave somehow got a taste of that sweet action. But as someone who grew up believing that rock and roll is created by artists and advertising is created by confidence men, seeing the two become one makes me cringe. Literally, physically cringe.

Before the world lets out a unanimous groan at the thought of some old guy lamenting the loss of some childish, outdated counter-culture ideal which I now suspect was the product of the same sort of careful marketing devised by businessmen trying to cash in on the hippie optimism of the day ("They're singing about peace, love and understanding. I can sell that!"), let me just say this. I understand the reality of the situation. I understand that radio no longer exists. It has been replaced by one long commercial for cheap credit consolidation and Viagra. I also understand that to make up for that loss and to get their product out there, record companies have mined alternate channels such as television shows, computer games, and, yes, commercials. I understand the logic of it all. But that doesn' t mean I like it.

I never really got into the Doors. Maybe it's because when I was small I was alone in the basement one night when "Riders on the Storm" came on WVBF. The combination of Jim Morrison's creepy baritone and the rainy sound effects freaked me out. Or maybe it's because there was a guy in high school named Bob Dugan who had the Doors logo emblazoned not only across the hood of his Plymouth Barracuda but also across his right bicep and I couldn't help but think he'd regret it someday when he discovered that the music that really spoke to him was Human League. After all, Bob's only human. Despite my disinterest in the band, when I read that the Doors drummer John Densmore had refused to allow the band's music to be used in, you guessed in, Cadillac ads, I felt like I was seeing something quite rare in the modern corporate arena: personal integrity. The car maker offered Densmore and the other two remaining band members $15 million for the use of "Break On Through," but Densmore refused to allow the deal to go through, explaining,"That's not for rent." So here's something I never thought I'd say. Nice going, drummer from the Doors! Your sloppy drum rolls and fills have always irritated me, but I respect your loyalty to your art and your principled rejection of greed. You didn't sell out and to me, that means a lot.

This past summer I went to see the nearly four hour director's cut of Woodstock. A high point of the movie is Santana's performance of "Soul Sacrifice." It was genuinely hypnotic to watch Carlos Santana slowly raise the crowd above the farmland, and whip them around and around with his music. It was as close to true magic as I've ever seen. Not a trick, but actual magic.

One morning last week over breakfast, Cindy half sarcastically asked, "Do you want to go meet Carlos Santana at Macy's?" nodding her head toward a section of the L.A. Times. Upside down I saw a large ad with a sepia tone photo of a deliberately posed Carlos Santana. He looked blankly at the camera. He looked defeated the way the lion in the glass cage at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel sullenly looks out at the fat, shorts-wearing, fanny-packed tourists.

"He's selling his collection of fragrances for men and women," Cindy explained.

I cringed. Literally, physically cringed.

But as far as I know
They may even try to wrap me up in cellophane and try and sell me
Brothers help me, and dont worry about lookin at the storm
Jimi Hendrix
Somewhere Over the Rainbow


At 10/15/2005 12:46 PM, DasGort said...

Carlos Santana is full of silly ideas. Some win him grammys, some result in a shoe line named Carlos. There is most certainly no magic there.

Jimi Hendrix has said some wacky things. You found a good one.


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