June 14, 2005

You're gonna make it after all...

My bank thinks I'm Mary Richards -- the role that Mary Tyler Moore made famous in her eponymously named TV show that launched its seven-year run in 1970. Granted, I've never experienced winter in Minneapolis, never worked in a television news room, and never tossed my hat in the air, per the character -- not to mention I lack many inches in height, have neither married nor suffered the death of a child, and I possess a working pancreatic system, unlike the actress herself.

It's almost 30 years since the show wrapped (think "it's a long way to Tipperary" if you missed the closing episode). Within the past month, the bank on my corner has begun an advertising campaign featuring a cheery, just-got-my-first-job, no-wrinkles, no-cellulite, 22-year-old woman, radiant about opening a checking account in the big city, where "you can have the town, why don't you take it?" is a pressing issue.

If you just got your first job, chances are you can't afford my bank, though it will be happy to take your money, charge you for the privilege of holding it, then charge you again for releasing back it to you.

This lovely building in the commercials bears no resemblance to the place that houses, albeit electronically, and with no thanks or graciousness for my managing to keep my minimum balance high enough to avoid any fees charged to my checking account, what is ostensibly my money.

Remember the free toaster oven your mom or grandma received? Or the 1990s equivalent for larger sums, a free round-trip ticket for anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States? Those days would be footnotes for corporate archivists, except with all the cutbacks, I'm sure the archivists were among the first to the slaughter, for they know history. Understanding history doesn't seem very popular these days, certainly not as reflected in the federal government.

In real life, banks make you go through hell and back to transfer money between your own accounts, charge you to wire money into your account, and would prefer to see your birth certificate and a note from your mother to let you liberate your own funds. My bank is convinced I derive my entire identity from a financial institution I selected on the simple basis of proximity.

Oh, well. I've made it this far, and I haven't let the bank get in the way. Nor would I ever praise it with helping me "make it after all."

It irritates me how often rock melodies and/or lyrics are used as the background to peddle nostalgia and the insert-consumer-product-here. I think the ad folks (they cluster in Chelsea and SoHo, no longer willing to pay Madison Avenue rents) who push these goods are probably not as old as the songs chosen to accompany say, a car commercial or even junk food.

If Born to be Wild reminds you of 1968, when the band Steppenwolf released it, chances are you won't associate the song with a group of giraffes running free and a vehicle aimed at baby-boomer parents -- who presumably conceived with or without assistance before age 50 -- with young children to protect. Let me point out also, having seen giraffes romping in the wild in Botswana, any one of them could total a car with one step. But an advertising agency apparently can't carry a coherent thought through 30 seconds.

Next up is Blondie, singing the first lines of One Way or Another. What she's gonna find ya is royalties to support her retirement, not a G-rated bag of Doritos.

There's a fine line between using pop music to evoke a time and place -- movies, TV shows and so on have used it for years to manipulate and/or underscore a viewer's emotional reaction to a scene (see The Big Chill for a good illustration of that principle) -- and the crass commercialism of the who-will-buy-my-songs this century since-I forgot (at the time, it promoted bad karma to trust anyone over 30) to-save-any-money or I-found-other-uses-and-places-for-it at the time.

I consider the re-release of rock songs -- doing my grocery shopping, say, to Roberta Flack's rendition of Killing Me Softly -- to be the musicians' full financial planning and retirement account package. I'm sure -- can we say, acquited? -- we'll hear more Beatles' songs soon to keep that cash flow blossoming. When it does, When I'm Sixty-four will generate a rather different emotion from in its initial release.

I'm not sure I want to hear the Rolling Stones as I stroll down the dairy aisle or bolt over to produce to retrieve more food for the off-White Rabbit. I am certain I don't want to hear Rush or Air Supply or ABBA or any other bands of similar ilk. I wouldn't mind hearing Jefferson Airplane, but I doubt it will make any playlist other than my own at home.

Hearing songs made famous by original artists is infinitely better than the Muzak (tm) elevator music that used to be played in retail establishments. Our musical history is the soundtrack to our pop culture. I'm sure Sinatra has different associations for my mom's generation from mine.

Old Navy will never see any of my business. Its TV ad campaign this summer is based on the melodies from the Go-Go's first album, Beauty and the Beat, which got way more airplay than it should have the first time around. Bad enough to hear it on TV; shopping to it? Not in this lifetime.

I wonder: who will try using Rocky Horror tunes and lyrics in a sales pitch. Will it be a hosiery company? One that makes fuck-me pumps? And where were you the first time you did the Time Warp? How stoned did you get that night? And what were -- or weren't -- you wearing? Who were you kissing? Not the same person as now. Perhaps not even the same gender.

The bottom line in the late '60s/early '70s was The Bottom Line, a musical venue on Bleecker Street, now gone the way of most such band showcases, its real estate revalued by the university that owns the now-gentrified land beneath the building.

It's 2005, and I have to face it: There's No Business Like Show Business....


Blogger SJ said...

Old Navy ruined "Bust a Move" by Young MC with something about tunics, I can no longer remember.

We are now the ones saying, "That's not a song JUST for this commercial. It USED to be a real song, on the radio." Sad, but true.

10:51 AM  
Blogger alice, uptown said...

Almost every car company tries to sell its vehicles by linking them to various music demographic pegholes. Reminding us that this was once a "real song" doesn't make me want to buy a product. The commercial soundtracks reinforce the fact that I'm too old to be cool. Do I need reminding? I think not.

1:17 PM  

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