ABF Friday: Selling Out Edition!
Aha! Steven Dowling’s essay on Iggy Pop and selling out is now up at the BBC News Magazine. Cool. I should start selling BlogAds again! Maybe some of you out there need car insurance. But first, a few stories about selling out, just as I promised.
At some point in college I encountered the following exchange—whether by participating in it, listening to it, or reading it, I really don’t remember. But it went like this. George Benson appeared on TV singing “This Masquerade,” and someone in the room responded by saying, “feh, George Benson, sellout. Hope he’s hired someone to count all that cash.” Whereupon someone else replied, “oh, really? WTF do you know about George Benson? Are you going to tell me you were avidly following his career from the moment he left Pittsburgh? Do you have a copy of his version of Abbey Road? Or was Breezin’ the first you ever heard of George Benson, so that now that you know his name, you can accuse him of selling out? Because maybe, just maybe, the guy likes playing for large appreciative crowds and appearing on TV instead of being consigned to eighty-three point seven FM? In which case, who are you to begrudge him?”
I’ve always liked that response, and wish only that I could remember whether it was actually directed at me.
A few years later, I was playing drums in Baby Opaque, a band that was a kind of distant offshoot of the DC hardcore scene (“distant” because we were two hours south of DC and didn’t play hardcore). Apparently some people still remember us, but at the time we played to such tiny crowds that eventually we put up a poster reading, “come join the three or four people who will join us. . . .” I narrated the band’s brief history at the end of this post from 2006. In that crowd, as I’ve mentioned many a time, Hüsker Dü was routinely accused of selling out for signing with SST. No, not for signing with Warner—for signing with SST. SST’s revenues, I believe, were approximately one-billionth of a percent of, say, Columbia Records’, but the success of Zen Arcade in 1984 meant that suddenly, more than five thousand people were listening to Hüsker Dü, which in turn meant that there would soon be new Hüsker Dü fans some of whom were measurably Not As Cool As We Were. The horror!
Of course, further down that indie-rock road lies Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain’s deeply conflicted relation to commercial success. As for me, I got tired of hauling ass and flailing away on drums for audiences of three or four every few weeks, and decided to devote myself full-time to graduate school, where the money was better. That’s a joke, son.
But it’s not just about the money. There are two more substantial reasons why I’m not fond of the discourse of “selling out,” and they both have to do with the idea of the counterculture.
One is that the “mainstream” is not, in fact, a static thing. There is no Man out there looking for cool and interesting subcultures to co-opt, deracinate, and drag into the corporate matrix. (Well, OK, there is in Undercover Brother, which you can think of as a breezin’ version of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo. But otherwise, no, there’s no Man.) Rather, the relation between “mainstream” culture and subcultures is, to coin a phrase, dialectic. And that’s why “popular” culture is so much blacker and queerer than it was fifty years ago.
The other is elaborated nicely in Joseph Heath’s and Andrew Potter’s Nation of Rebels. (Also known in Othercountriestan as The Rebel Sell.) In my discussion of Heath and Potter in the forthcoming and eagerly-awaited-by-three-or-four-people The Left At War, I note that Heath and Potter argue
that countercultural thinking itself starts from a fatally incoherent premise. In postwar countercultural critiques of mass society, the enemy is inevitably conformity– embodied by the organization man, the man in the grey flannel suit, the people in the ticky-tacky houses that all look just the same, the well-respected man about town doing the best things so conservatively. Rebellion against conformity, then, is construed as a challenge to the entire structure of corporate capitalism, which allegedly would prefer to mass-produce us all just as it mass-produces cheeseburgers, Levis, and Top 40 songs. Strangely, however, it always turns out that rebellion against conformity, whenever it becomes attractive enough to a critical mass of people, fails to challenge the logic of the market, instead producing new niche markets for everything from organic food to extreme sports. And it turns out this way because capitalism has no necessary investment in conformity; market diversity, from the seller’s point of view, is just as good if not better. By the same token, a counterculture that urges its members to break away from social mores and march to a different drummer is a counterculture that winds up subscribing to one of mainstream America’s most cherished topoi: that individuals need to rebel against “society” in order to discover and express themselves. Although Thomas Frank was right to note the rise of “hip consumerism,” therefore, it was something of a mistake to characterize it as corporate America’s “conquest of cool.” “Cool” was always already marketable, and the assumptions of the counterculture were always as American as McDonald’s apple pie.
Speaking of McDonald’s: I am totally in favor of the late Paul Newman selling out by having his salad dressing sold at your local Mickey D’s. See, McDonald’s is eventually going to try to sell salads, right? And those salads will have dressings as well, right? And if it’s a question of whether that dressing will be Gloppy Goo made by Kraft or Newman’s Own where the profits go to various lefty-approved causes, give me some of that Newman’s Own. And to Jonathan Franzen, I would say never mind about that Oprah; if I ran the world, writers who are (cough, cough) solidly in the high-art literary tradition would have their books included in Happy Meals.
That said, the Iggy ads are still icky. Though as I note in Steven Dowling’s piece, it’s nice to know that if my car collides with Mr. Pop’s anytime soon, he is indeed covered.
Michael, as I have noted here many times, you are the coolest person I know, and you could never be considered a sellout. That said, I still have a hard time imagining the look that propelled Baby Opaque into the attenuated limelight of Charlottesville’s music scene circa 1985. Where are the photos of you and your mates? Are we talking big hair? Skinny ties? A Ramones look? Or something designed to keep you all from the temptations of the mainstream (like a multi-colored mullet, facial tats, etc.)? Let’s have a look.Posted by on 02/20 at 01:33 PM
WHAT! There’s no Man?!?! Well, then, tell me, Mr. Dr. Professor Pointy-Head Sellout, tell me this:
who’s been keeping me down? Huh?!?!Posted by on 02/20 at 01:34 PM
Graffiti is an interesting case. It’s mostly illegal in the USofA (& elsewhere) and people do get jail-time if they’re caught doing it. But, it’s part of the look of hip-hop culture and extreme sports and a handful of graffiti writers get paid to do those designs. At the same time at least some of them still do “illegals” to maintain their street cred.
And then last year Walt Disney commissioned a number of graffiti writers to do pictures of Mickey Mouse, in their style, on canvas, and then sponsored an exhibition of the work. Now, no company is more mid-cult than Disney and no company protects its brand more jealously than Disney does, and Mickey is at the heart of that brand. So what could be more legit than doing sanctioned pictures of Mickey? And I bet that the artists who contributed to that exhibit still do illegals.Posted by on 02/20 at 01:42 PM
Ask and ye shall receive a great big .jpg, Chris.
Oh noes! Get that microphone away from that drummer!Posted by on 02/20 at 01:46 PM
That’s great! You guys were a genuine garage band, and you had a real Ginger Baker thing going there. Conspicuously missing from the photo? The cowbell.Posted by on 02/20 at 01:52 PM
Here we go, Mickey-ffiti:Posted by on 02/20 at 01:53 PM
Hmmm, so between “Volunteers of America” and “We Built This City”, which was the figure and which was the ground? ...talkin’ ‘bout my generation
And because I can (and because I like totally pre-anticipated paragraphs four and five of this post) I am relinking Jeffrey Lewis’s Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror and Complete History of Punk Rock from my comment 41 to the previous post.Posted by on 02/20 at 01:57 PM
"eagerly-awaited-by-three-or-four-people”? I didn’t realize I was so cool. Any idea when the waiting will abate? When I can say, Yeah I was into him with What’s Liberal, but then he got all always already.Posted by Matt on 02/20 at 02:01 PM
Oops comment lossage, lyrics intended to be at the bottom of 7.
‘What do you think about it?
Is it worth being an artist or an indie-rock star, or are you better off without it?’
Cause I mean maybe the world would be better if we were all just uncreative drones,
No dead childhood dreams to haunt us, a decent job, a decent home,
And if we have some extra time we could do real things to promote peace,
Become scientists or history teachers or un-corrupt police at least,Posted by on 02/20 at 02:01 PM
Bill: thanks! And I just want to add that Shepard Fairey totally sold out with that Obama poster.
Matt: the waiting should abate this fall, in a Happy Meal near you! Probably October.Posted by on 02/20 at 02:07 PM
Another aspect of this issue. Maybe your favorite period of the Beatles was Rubber Soul, but they did not have the choice of being the Beatles of Rubber Soul forever, unless they were all killed in a horrendous car crash immediately afterwards. Asking them to die for your esthetic pleasure might be a bit much.Posted by Steve Muhlberger on 02/20 at 02:09 PM
One is that the “mainstream” is not, in fact, a static thing. There is no Man out there looking for cool and interesting subcultures to co-opt, deracinate, and drag into the corporate matrix.
Well, I remember when Charlie Sexton, who was somewhat of a blues prodigy twenty-some odd years ago, was taken to Hollywood as a wee lad to become the next Leif Garrett. Charlie survived the encounter and has had a respectable career, but that is in spite of “the man.”
Being adopted by the mainstream culture is not selling out. Compromising your integrity—whether it be artistic, moral, intellectual, etc.—for money is selling out. Perhaps one reason that the “sell out” idea loses its impact as we age is that we and people we know are placed in so many situations where integrity is compromised at the expense of financial security that we rationalize away the idea that “selling out” exists.Posted by on 02/20 at 02:09 PM
I know something is happening here, I just don’t know what it is.Posted by on 02/20 at 02:15 PM
I’m glad The Who didn’t Sell Out.Posted by on 02/20 at 02:22 PM
Back in the day, (’76), I saw George Benson at a local jazz festival. The guy I attended it with, who was in the high school jazz band, sniffed that he didn’t like jazz players who also sang. When the festival was reviewed in a local paper, the reviewer was rather denigrating about Benson enjoying himself so much because everyone recognized him as a Top 40 guy, implying that he wasn’t as serious as some of the other performers. So, it wasn’t just some uninformed college kid who muttered “sellout” for poor Mr. Benson.Posted by on 02/20 at 02:34 PM
Compromising your integrity—whether it be artistic, moral, intellectual, etc.—for money is selling out.
Doesn’t that just kick the can down the road a ways, relocating the debate from “what is selling out?” to “what is integrity?” How can we fans tell when the artist’s “integrity” has been “compromised”? What is it that confers “integrity” in the first place?Posted by on 02/20 at 03:05 PM
Maybe I don’t have very high standards, but I think that artists (of the unmanufactured variety, I mean) who can actually make a living being artists probably deserves some slack when it comes to commercials and stuff, particularly when they’re on the downside of a career.
I’m pretty sure Iggy doesn’t have much of a retirement plan.Posted by on 02/20 at 03:06 PM
I think in practice the moment when every artist “sells out” is when someone less cool than you begins to like him/her/them. It’s sort of like the inverse of Stephen Colbert’s WristStrong bracelets, which he urges you to pass on to someone more famous than yourself.
In other words, _your_ liking an artist is never a sign of their selling out. It’s the _next guy’s_ fault, that bastard.
(Being honest about it, I know that _I_ would never know of any artist’s existence were it not for the process of selling out that ultimately resulted in his/her/their coming to my un-hip self’s awareness.)Posted by on 02/20 at 03:13 PM
How can we fans tell when the artist’s “integrity” has been “compromised”? What is it that confers “integrity” in the first place?
I agree that I as a fan may not necessarily know, but the artist should know.
I’ll go back the analogy I used in the previous post—it’s possible that the global warming-denying scientists at Exxon/Mobil really do believe their research and are convinced that there is no such thing as global warming. If that’s the case, they would be standing on their integrity and making money at the same time. I personally think that’s unlikely, but I’ll grant your point that I can’t know for sure.
It’s also possible that Exxon/Mobil went shopping for someone—anyone—with the proper credentials to produce some research that would muddy the waters a bit. It’s possible that they found a scientist or two who looked at the offer and thought, what the hell, why not. Obviously, there is no integrity in that.
One thing is certain, though; Exxon/Mobil is not going to pay large sums of money to researchers who will do independent research and draw their own conclusions, so the situation is biased against integrity.Posted by on 02/20 at 03:23 PM
Look, George Benson went from recording with Miles Davis’s second great quintet (circa Miles in the Sky) to crooning Top-40-aimed R&B tunes. In between there he signed with CTI Records, which was indeed tantamount to selling out back then. Creed Taylor’s vision was to sell more jazz records by diluting the whole improvisation thing, especially anything dissonant or “modern” sounding, and emphasizing the soulful and overproduced R&B backdrop. He basically invented the horror of “smooth jazz.” Speaking as someone who was aware of George Benson not only before “Breezin’” but before CTI, yeah, he sold out.
It’s the fuzzy-boundaried difference between honest self-expression (and perhaps selling stuff anyway) and making artistic decisions specifically to sell more. Call it “authenticity” or “artistic integrity,” whatever. My people call it maize.Posted by on 02/20 at 03:25 PM
It’s the fuzzy-boundaried difference between honest self-expression (and perhaps selling stuff anyway) and making artistic decisions specifically to sell more
Right, I think that the _charge_ of selling out has to do with fixing results around a pre-ordained conclusion: the artist (or scientist) changes what she would normally do in order to satisfy the paymasters.
But it seems like that discussion is almost always bound to degenerate. The artist-with-integrity will say, “No, I’m still doing what I want to do,” and the feeling-betrayed fan will say, “You used to be cool, but you changed, man.” And it’s not going to be easy to determine who’s right.Posted by on 02/20 at 03:36 PM
I’m glad The Who didn’t Sell Out.
And that the Sex Pistols didn’t swindle anybody, too.Posted by on 02/20 at 03:43 PM
Those smooth 70s sounds are fully and faithfully documented in the “Yacht Rock” video series.Posted by on 02/20 at 03:51 PM
I’m pretty sure Iggy doesn’t have much of a retirement plan.
Thinking about it that way, why don’t we see more pathos in this situation? I mean really, what’s more pathetic, “Punk Icon Iggy Pop dies of heroin overdose in destitute apartment”, or “Punk Icon Iggy Pop reduced to selling insurance”??
I think he’s just trying to hit bottom…Posted by on 02/20 at 03:55 PM
Creed Taylor’s vision was to sell more jazz records by diluting the whole improvisation thing, especially anything dissonant or “modern” sounding, and emphasizing the soulful and overproduced R&B backdrop. He basically invented the horror of “smooth jazz.”
Aha! Sven, you’re taking me back to the early days of this blog, before it sold out (comments 31 and 33 represent the first-ever mentions of Creed Taylor around here, I believe). And it’s good to see that the Great George Benson Debate is still going on! Yes, Father Time has always been our most reliable music critic. The essence of timelessness is more than beauty. It’s also smooth jazz, and the truth that smooth jazz is a genre and an idea worth fighting and dying for will not be denied, not under a pile of left-wing critiques or even Breezin’’s own melodramatic flaws.Posted by on 02/20 at 04:06 PM
1. Oldie Onion headline: Nonconformity Linked To Peer Pressure.
2. The Iggy Pop comm’l is a style I call “combover”: an oblivious attempt to be hep with the jive. (Mr. Steele has promised the Palin party a complete combover.) But selling is not the same as selling out.
3. “Selling out” is when there’s real harm, like when I take pictures of real estate for profit in our already-overdeveloped region. (I no longer have that problem!) Skewing a pet abstract (or vice versa) isn’t selling out. Abstracts are ether-based. No matter how you fancied your favorite artist’s essence, ‘tweren’t. I’d never begrudge any pure soul a royalty check, or even my soul.
4. However, I did not sell my good name to Swiftcover. So stop glaring at me.
Post-capcha-&-formatting-struggle late comment: the red-dawning of smooth jazz? I’m starting to have real problems with where this is going.Posted by David J Swift on 02/20 at 05:02 PM
Mr. Pop may not have a retirement plan, but he does
write a mean rider:
CheersPosted by on 02/20 at 05:04 PM
Seems to me John Lydon deliberately played authenticity from the other side, mocking fans’ illusions and the idea artists should gratify fans, should provide secure cultural pegs to hang youthful rebellion on. He can only be unhappy he had to wait so long to sell butter.
Anyway, to pick up on saltydog’s previous-thread point re reader response, you can ask what different things music does. I’d still be a little shocked if the Gang of Four shilled for a cruise line, for example, but not if the Talking Heads did (suggests a future Friday question—what selling out would still upset you?)
Catcha taking: there for thePosted by on 02/20 at 05:07 PM
a future Friday question—what selling out would still upset you?
Hey, there’s no Friday like the present! How about Nick Cave replacing Tiger Woods on those billboards for Accenture?Posted by Michael on 02/20 at 05:27 PM
It’s funny: because my frame for “sell-out” was defined by 60s artists, I always understood the concept in 12’s integrity-compromising terms. The idiotic punk version - “Baby Opaque were cool until they sold out when that fifth guy showed up” - was unknown to me until I got to college and someone told me about Fugazi.
And I think that the punk definition is so transparently stupid, it has eviscerated all meaning from the term. But I do think that there’s something to the underlying concept. An original* artist brings something new and exciting and valuable to the world. If she changes her art to be more mainstream/familiar/unoriginal in order to be better-paid, then that new, exciting, valuable thing becomes none of those things.
It’s not clear to me how well-compensated Dizzy Gillespie was as a bop artist. But he made a clear choice to abandon a secure, remunerative job with Cab Calloway to pursue his personal, original vision. Now, the verb tense of sellout doesn’t really apply, but the integrity-compromise was available to him. We’re all better off because Dizzy stuck with his vision at the risk of his livelihood.
That’s why I have trouble dismissing the concept of sellout entirely. A fan may not be in a position - moral or aesthetic - to judge whether an artist has sold out, but there is something there. Maybe the biggest mistake is treating sellout as a binary concept. Writing a catchy pop tune in order to help your career along may well advance one’s artistic path - can’t change the face of music if you’re not making music - whereas changing your whole sound to gat a contract or sell more records is abandoning that path (altho some can certainly produce worthwhile art even in a different mode).
Sellout doesn’t happen the first time you make your art a bit more consumer-friendly; it happens when you’ve forgotten about art entirely, and only consider commerce.
* For some value of “original”Posted by JRoth on 02/20 at 05:36 PM
Is not the accusation of ‘selling out’ an accusation of betrayal? Seems to me like it’s a way to protect one’s ego against its over-investment in Thee Culture Industry.
‘You’ve sold out, man’ means ‘You’ve always sold me something, but we were able to deny it (and thus make the sale successful) until now; I need to believe our relationship (and my identity) was founded on something other than an act of exchange and consumption’Posted by on 02/20 at 05:38 PM
I used to give an kind of term paper assignment that hinged on the idea of selling out. It was in a jazz survey class, and the figure in question was Miles Davis (no messing around with historical curiosities like Broadway George Benson). I read several hundred papers over a period of about 3 years, and overall the kids weren’t up to very subtle thinking on the subject. They started by reading some fulminations by Stanley Crouch and a couple of excerpts from Miles’ Autobiography, then they listened (closely, I hoped) to some music. I gave them a couple of late 60s/early 70s tracks from Miles, but also some of the music he claimed to be influenced by--James Brown and Sly Stone, on one hand, and on the other, Karlheinz Stockhausen (my secret agenda, of course, was to force every student in the Introduction to Jazz class to listen to Gesang der Jünglinge--still a proud moment in my lackluster teaching career). It was basically a setup, because the two cuts by Miles were (1) a 15-minute long series of rambling free improvisations (Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, from Bitches Brew) and (2) 7 minutes of mechanically clanking hi-hat and very, um, abstract and gestural wa-wa trumpet (Thinkin’ One Thing and Doin’ Another, from On The Corner).
It took a whole lot of hand-holding to get the students to write about the music--their strong preference was to write platitudinous commentary on the dueling texts. But ultimately they had to answer the question: Based on those specific tracks (with the baseline being earlier recordings of his we’d studied in class), was Miles a sellout? The answer, surprisingly often, was yes--he was a jazz musician but then he started using rock instruments and rock sounds, rock was popular, money-making music, therefore he was a sellout, just like Mr. Crouch said. Never mind that the music they were (supposedly) basing their answer on was about as far as you can get from the recipe for commercial success.Posted by Robert Zimmerman on 02/20 at 06:32 PM
Michael, cool thread-of-the-past; thanks. “From Weather Report to the Weather Channel” is indeed an awesome essay title. For the book-length treatment, however, something like “Whiteman, Taylor, and G: How Certain White Guys Keep Fucking Up Jazz” would offer more scope for expansion.
Robert Zimmerman, sounds like a cool assignment. Yeah, “On the Corner” was a total sellout, heh. Have you heard the Cellar Door box?Posted by on 02/20 at 06:40 PM
I think the Rebel Sell folks name-drop Thomas Frank via “The Conquest of Cool” which was a real eye-opener for me.
Frank makes a compelling argument that what we think of as cool is a moving target, not only defined in terms of what it is /not/, but that is was, in fact, a notion created by advertising creatives in the 50s.
But not for the reasons we assume (i.e., to callously sell more product by selling an impossible dream.)
His argument is that these new creatives saw themselves as separate from the organization men in grey flannel suits. That is, cool was a movement within the ad business that drove a sort of business renaissance. Perhaps not unlike how modern geek/nerd culture grew out of its onw crucible.
ANyway, I’m selling the ideas short. The whole story is nicely nuanced, and has caused me to immediately be suspicious the moment anyone takes the easy way out by asserting “sell-out” /or/ “elitist.”Posted by on 02/20 at 07:03 PM
Greg nails it—I remember Lydon ending a Boston PiL concert with “now we’re going to go spend your money”—no thank-yous, no effort to cover the purchase of entertainment. I chatted afterward with some local punkish musicians who were kinda shocked by his overall lack of regard for the audience.
I see the “red lantern” mask slipped, and who knows what will slip next? Cultural studies, like that really exists. Wingnuttery is a hard pose to hold for long, isn’t it? Much more fun to annoy liberals, because they get so earnest.Posted by on 02/20 at 07:23 PM
Ah, Miles Dewey Davis, a hard case. It’s not as though the classic Sketches of Spain weren’t an attempt to cash-in on the then-current demand for Latin flavor. It also happened to be dynamite music. An, while Bitches Brew may well have been early rock-jazz fusion it sure didn’t sound much like Elvis, the Stones, or the Beatles. And then you have the real sell-out stuff, like “Time After Time.” I heard a live version of that in Avery Fisher hall in 1987. Absolutely stunning. The audience was so deeply silent that, if some Islamofacist had set of a bomb in the hall, the sound would’ve been sucked out of the air instantly, without disturbing the performance at all.Posted by on 02/20 at 07:39 PM
As I recall, Lars Ulrich & friends once talked about how listening to bootleg tapes of Led Zeppelin was part of their artistic development. Thus Metallica’s very public position vs. file-sharing seems like an excellent example of “selling out”. Ulrich’s partial retraction in an interview with LAUNCHcast strikes me as a welcome acknowledgment of their hypocritical position but doesn’t retcon previous events.Posted by on 02/20 at 08:46 PM
#32 - read somewhere (who knows, maybe here) and it seemed right to me, that the most artistically succcesful “fusion” was performed by rock musicians who were attracted to jazz, like Steely Dan, rather than by jazz musicians who were trying to become popular, like George Benson. The rock musicians were selling in, not out.Posted by on 02/20 at 09:21 PM
Below are a series of recent published studies from around the world. They represent money, most of which i am sure is from private corporate sources, spent on discovering data that will produce future sales pitches for various pharmaceutical and consumer products. Just by reading the list you can already hear the jingles and tunes, most of which will be purchased from leading “hip and cool” artistes from around the world.
Babies who ride in forward-facing buggies may be more stressed and develop more slowly than babies in parent-facing buggies, and babies who are carried in slings cry less than babies who are transported in buggies. Researchers may have identified a genetic variant that undermasculinizes the fetal brain and thereby contributes to male-to-female transgenderism.
Light drinking during pregnancy, said scientists, does not harm babies and seems to produce smarter, better-behaved children, though this effect could be due to light social drinkers’ coming from more privileged backgrounds. British women with bad complexions were pleased with the effects of a new skin-rejuvenating liquid called Vavelta, which is made from American baby foreskins.
Britain was found to be the most promiscuous industrialized nation, whereas Taiwan is the least. Frenchmen were found to have the longest, thickest penises in the E.U., whereas the thinnest and shortest were found on Greeks. Psychologists found that ovulating Frenchwomen were three times as likely as menstruating Frenchwomen to give their phone numbers to attractive men named Antoine.
Researchers found no relationship between a Czech woman’s orgasms and the amount of time she spends in foreplay but did find that orgasm was likelier to occur the longer she spends having intercourse. On average intercourse lasts more than twice as long for Czechs as for Americans; the researchers posited as an explanation “a greater appreciation of intercourse and sensuality by Europeans than by Americans.”
Cannibals in Papua New Guinea, it was reported, prefer Japanese people and find Caucasians too salty. Laron dwarves in southern Ecuador were discovered to be free of cancer and diabetes. . Mexican scientists turned tequila into diamonds.Posted by on 02/21 at 12:11 AM
Back in the late eighties I was writing all sorts of socially and politically relevant songs and got Scott Mathews interested in one for his then-wife’s debut album. That was Jenni Muldaur, daughter of “Midnight At The Oasis” Maria Muldaur (and Geoff Muldaur). Well, Mathews broke the news to me that they didn’t like the lyrics about the social turmoil of a factory closing, but they liked the accordian hook (which ended up being a vocal harmony line).
I felt pretty bad about this violation of my artistic accomplishment, you know, them chucking the lyrics, but this was the first time I’d sold a song. I did a lot of hand-wringing but eventually I SOLD OUT.
They replaced the factory closing with a tale of love, where two lovers keep getting back together. A “love boomerang” which gave me a mental image of someone suffering Peyronie’s disease, you know, with that bend in the stick.
It turns out this was one of those things where Warner Brothers spent a half million dollars on the album, bringing in all sorts of studio musicians, taking forever to get it right. And when the album came out Janet Jackson was the big thing and the train had left the station for Ronstadt-esque country-rock stuff. My song was the single off the album and got a nice writeup in Billboard, but it stiffed.
I still get a royalty check every few years, and it’s fun to know that there are people in Vietnam and Holland and France who like that catchy counter melody. And I don’t feel so bad about selling out. In fact, when Mathews asked for another song I now wish I’d obliged.Posted by Bob In Pacifca on 02/21 at 01:20 AM
Second, it occurs to me, Michael, that you’re dodging the core issue: what do you think of Iggy’s golf swing?
To me, it screams, “You want cognitive dissonance? You can’t handle cognitive dissonance!”Posted by The Constructivist on 02/21 at 03:02 AM
“Psychologists found that ovulating Frenchwomen were three times as likely as menstruating Frenchwomen to give their phone numbers to attractive men named Antoine.”
but how many gave their names to Maurice…
e.Posted by on 02/21 at 03:13 AM
All I want to know is, where do I go to sell out? And how much will I get for it?Posted by on 02/21 at 04:16 AM
Thank god our politicians don’t sell out.Posted by on 02/21 at 07:35 AM
"Ah’m a street-walking cheetah with a hand full of napalm, and you can be too, with the Iggy-Pop for Dummies training manual (CD included).”
Serio, the sins of ho’s wash away, usually. Not the case with their pimpz.Posted by Ezra Hound on 02/21 at 02:50 PM
Perhaps Iggy Pop did the ad because he needed money for a shirt.Posted by on 02/21 at 10:37 PM
"I’ve seen thousands who could overcome the darkness/For the love of a lousy buck I watched them die.” —some Victoria’s Secret model
I’ll defend Franzen, who has the problem that he’s never going to be Kaye Gibbons or Wally Lamb. That is, The Corrections was an exception, and making it an Oprah selection would lead to his next book getting a HUGE print run--and a RETURN RATE in the high-80s or beyond.*
It’s the type of moment that can kill a career, or make it very difficult to recover from.
Career management is a careful path.
(Fairness note: my neighbor in NJ had her second novel chosen as an Oprah Summer Selection last year. But she spent eight years between the first and the second, and will probably spend a few more until the third. So it won’t do any harm.)
*The largest return rate I ever heard of for a Major Publisher Book was the autobiography of a young television star with a 97% return: 3 copies out of every 100 sold. The person in question has had a rather interesting life since then, but it’s unlikely anyone would every buy his autobioraphy now, when it would be well worth reading.Posted by Ken Houghton on 02/21 at 10:54 PM
You forgot the third substantial reason- Dude, you’re old.
You also appear not to own stock in Kraft Foods. Stop that. They were spun off from Philip Morris, and what’s cooler than smoking?
Sell out.Posted by on 02/22 at 01:00 AM
I tend to have a more casual attitude toward my entertainment, so the notion of “selling out” just doesn’t wind me up.
Did Kurt Cobain benefit from his resistance to selling out? Did Paul, Ringo, and George suffer because “Revolution” was played in a car commercial? Did George Carlin regret his prime-time sitcom (actually, he probably did)? The fact is, these artists do what they do because that’s what they want to do--not because I expect anything from them. They shouldn’t give a shit about me or my needs.
More academically, we have the words of Leon Battista Alberti from the fifteenth century to guide us (sorry--I don’t know how to block quote in comments): “It is useful to remember that avarice is always the enemy of virtue. Rarely can anyone given to acquisition of wealth acquire renown. I have seen many in the first flower of learning suddenly sink to money-making. As a result they acquire neither riches nor praise. However, if they had increased their talent with study, they would have easily soared into great renown. Then they would have acquired much riches and pleasure.”
Well. That settles that.Posted by Jason B on 02/22 at 03:04 AM
But maybe we’re being too hasty. Maybe he can make this retro-80’s thing work for him—with, you know, a little help from his friends. First he’ll need to take some “rap lessons.” (I hear Joaquin Phoenix is available.) Then he could put a little act of his own together: “The Fresh Prince of the Beltway, with Fatcat Cash and the Wheels of Steele.”
They could get Rush Limbaugh to be a Human Beat Box, a wall of fleshy sound. Then they could make a video, MTV-style, with spray painting and graffiti that says “Adults Keep Out” or “No Taxes for the Rich!” In fact, as an act of across-the-aisle generosity, I’ll write the lyrics. Ready? Okay, then! I’m going to call up Michael Steele and read him his new hit. I’ve appropriated a musical backing that won’t make men in their fifties uncomfortable - “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
Posted by on 02/22 at 07:37 AM
You forgot the third substantial reason- Dude, you’re old.
Ah, Matt, you remind me of the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ‘em. ‘Give me five bees for a quarter,’ you’d say. Now where were we? Oh yeah—the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones. . . .
You also appear not to own stock in Kraft Foods. Stop that. They were spun off from Philip Morris, and what’s cooler than smoking?
I probably do own stock in Kraft, somewhere deep in my incredible shrinking TIAA-CREF account. So there. And McDonald’s too! I’m diversified.
You weren’t around when I turned down the offer to join Pajamas Media, were you? (True story.)
Did Paul, Ringo, and George suffer because “Revolution” was played in a car commercial?
I hear you, Jason. This one really gets up my nose, because (a) it’s not as if the Beatles were resolutely anticommercial, and (b) it’s not even as if that damn song advocates revolution. Mother of Moloch, those aging hippies can be tiresome. They took our song—the one that called for the violent overthrow of everything existing—and turned it into a goddamn ad, man! It reminds me of the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. . . .Posted by on 02/22 at 11:35 AM
"If you go wavin’ pictures of Chairman Mao,
You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”
In 1968, this practicaly added up to genius, when it should only have been common sense.Posted by Steve Muhlberger on 02/22 at 12:45 PM
Very few performers actually create the image we have of them themselves, or do so intentionally, or well. I think Dylan knew what he was about and greatly enjoyed (enjoys?) the process. Madonna seems to have her iconic self nailed. I would include Iggy among those who consider the image they create as being part and parcel with their art. Mr. Pop, indeed!
Successful performers who do not consider their image to be part of their work of creation reach a point where they must deal with this issue in some way. In fact many actually write songs about it! (Playing real good for free)
If the commercial equation were changed from one of selling many units at a low price to selling, well, something other than units of anything, I believe the idea of selling out would disappear completely. Is it possible to make art in a way that disregards the requirements of the marketplace and still earns a living for the artist? I’m running an experiment…Posted by Cougarhutch on 02/22 at 01:21 PM
Some enterprising musician or record company will soon cut out the middle man and go straight to product placement in songs.
“Johnny’s in the basement mixiing up the Nyquil nighttime cough and cold medicine, I’m on the Ready-Mix pavement thinking ‘bout the government...”Posted by on 02/22 at 04:49 PM
Ah, Matt, you remind me of the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville.
You know that wasn’t really a ferry going across that pond. Basically just a motor launch ...Posted by on 02/22 at 11:15 PM
I’ve always appreciated Swamp Dogg’s album title;
“I’m not selling out, I’m buying in”.Posted by on 02/24 at 06:54 AM
Some at least sell out with style. Like Cadillac using Led Zeppelin’s Rock n roll: selling out, yet with monster groove. Or consider Cybil Shepard pitching Mercedes Benz: that was sexxay, with even a few hints of Wehrmacht.
Now, Gap using the corpse of Kerouac to move some product: sleazy (JK of course not involved, but one of the pimps of his “estate” was). Iggy’s slingin’ for a insurance company: also a fairly tacky sell out. A dead celebrity/rock star/writer (ie PK Dick) usually moves product far more effectively than the corpse-to- be.Posted by Ezra Hound on 02/24 at 01:28 PM
Apparently, Cadillac wanted to pay the remaining Doors millions of dollars to use the song “break on through”. They refused so Cadillac got the led zepplin song.Posted by on 02/27 at 09:17 PM
here will be three different versions of Halo 3 for retail sale: the Standard Edition, which contains the game disc and a manual; the Collector’s Edition, which contains the game disc, manual, interactive Xbox 360 bonus disc with several featurettes, and Beastiarum, which is a “hard cover, bound collection of information and art covering the species, cultures and civilizations of Halo 3.” according to Bungie; and the Legendary Edition, which contains the game disc, manual, interactive bonus disc, Beastiarum, Legendary DVD containing special content exclusive to the Legendary Edition, and a scale replica of the Master Chief’s Helmet as a case for the three discs.
Wedding GownPosted by Wedding Gown on 06/18 at 02:14 PM
I’m starting to get pissed at Bungie for not releasing the mystic map pack on the marketplace yet. So, I was thinking about going and buying halo wars, only to trash it, but to get the maps in the process. That said, I don’t know if the limited edition Halo Wars is still selling. If it is then great, but if it isn’t, does anybody know what soon means as for arriving in the marketplace?
copper sinksPosted by copper sinks on 08/18 at 06:23 PM
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