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Music matters

Country Musings by Robert Loy, March 2006

I don't really believe it's true, but some of the people who know me best think I might take music just a tad too seriously. I cringe (if it's possible to cringe while simultaneously reaching for the remote) when I see Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" used to shill for Cadillac or Devo's "Whip It" pushing Pringle's, and I don't even like Led Zeppelin or Devo very much.

It's much worse when they use a song I care about. The first time I remember it happening was back in the late '80s with The Beatles' "Revolution" used by Nike. I could not believe what I had just seen. Did Nike really think the revolution Lennon and McCartney were talking about was using underage sweatshop labor?

No, of course not. The advertisers never get it. They never know that the songs they rape are about, what they meant to those of us who were shaped by them. They just know we love them and that they have a better chance of selling us crap if they get our attention and manipulate our emotions.

I mean Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz" was an ironic lament on our consumerist culture and lack of any real spiritual values. Why in the world would Mercedes use that song unless they're just mocking us old idealists? Microsoft used "Start Me Up" to sell its product, even though the chorus goes "You make a grown man cry." (And anybody who's ever tried to reinstall Windows will sing along.)

Although it's been years since they desecrated Marty Robbins' immortal "El Paso" I'm still boycotting Old El Paso foods. I just can't forgive them. Using one of the greatest love songs ever written to sell salsa like that left such a bad taste in my mouth I'd never be able to enjoy their products ever again even if they apologized to me and the Robbins family.

But come to think of it, maybe it's the Robbins family I'm mad at. After all, advertisers do their dirty deeds with the blessings of the copyright holders. And damn it, why doesn't the music mean as much to the artist or the artist's family as it does to you and me?

Admittedly, sometimes it does. About a year ago Preparation H wanted to use Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" in a hemorrhoid medicine commercial. Merle Kilgore, who co-wrote the song with June Carter, thought it was a great idea. Thank God Rosanne Cash put her foot down and said, "There is no way we would ever allow the song to be demeaned like that."

Which proves two things: 1. Rosanne Cash is my hero, and 2. Mr. Kilgore should be very glad I'm not God because if I were he'd probably be spending eternity down, down, down in a different kind of ring of fire.

(Are you beginning to see why people think I take music too seriously?)

The views expressed in this column are Robert Loy's and do not necessarily reflect those of CST.