To: The Hot Topic TeamFrom: El BichoRE: Selling Out“Sell-out,” a sleight uttered by those who think their definition of “cool” should be of any consequence to a musician. Aside from the normal delusions of self-importance created by the ego, I am not sure what makes a person think he has been crowned arbiter of a musician’s status. Probably some romantic ideal of the bohemian artist, read about in worn paperbacks and glossy magazines, which ceases to exist after said musician hits the big time, presuming that condition ever occurred in the first place. Music creates such a deep bond that a presumptive sense of entitlement infects people. It’s rather selfish and obnoxious for fans to place musicians into this bizarre form of bondage. You would think the pleasure of a song would be enough. Usually when a stranger gives you a gift, it is met with gratitude not a demand for more, especially when nothing is given in return. Oh, sure, there’s fanatical devotion, but if that could be spent, Gene Simmons wouldn’t have sold KISS Kaskets. The term “sell-out” is bandied about when a musician alters his work, usually considered to be an appeal to a larger audience, or when Madison Ave. is using a generation’s teenage soundtrack to pitch products. Both of which are done to make money obviously.No one wants their favorite band to be appreciated by the huddled masses. Friends are perfectly fine as is a small group who know their stuff, but when people you don’t like enjoy your music, it turns you uncool by association, and that ain’t cool. It’s bad enough once the mainstream music magazines take notice, but when Us Weekly writes a feature, the publicity appears to reach whorish levels. The worst is when your mother likes your music. You have to immediately drop that band from your collection. Sure, at first, it will seem like a great set-up. Your friends will come around, hang out and drink, mom will joke around, cook, and everyone thinks she’s the coolest. That’s great until a few weeks go by and you come home to find Paul and mom in bed together smoking a joint. You spend the remainder of the year startled by ringing phones in fear that the voice on the other end will say, “Hello, I’m Janelle from The Jerry Springer Show.” There’s no song yet, blues or country, to help you get over that calamity.Others want to place a musician in stasis for perpetuity, capturing them at the precise moment in time of the recording, but the truly talented musicians want to expand and explore. I feel embarrassed for all the people who booed Bob Dylan and called him “Judas” because he wanted to play electric. After all that great folk music he created, probably more than anyone in that same time period, it wasn’t enough. I feel indebted to him just for “Masters of War,” but these geniuses didn’t care. Like a high school sweetheart who doesn’t want his girl going off to college and leaving him behind, they said don’t be who you want to be. Be what we want you to be. We know better even though we couldn’t create the music you did. All he wanted was to try something new, something that excited him, to explore other modes of music. Apparently folk music fans had no use for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” or “Tangled Up in Blue.” Their loss is our gain.I do understand the shock and pain of hearing your favorite band spilling out of the TV in an effort to pimp merchandise. The first time I heard Jane’s Addiction, my band, from right here in Los Angeles, selling Coors Light with “The Mountain Song” I must admit I did feel a wave of nausea. These guys had trouble getting the video aired back in 1988-89, although they eventually did with black bars covering miscellaneous naughty bits, but were now considered safe enough for Middle America. I did some research and found out that after Strays and its supporting tour, which had a number of cancelled dates, the band found itself in a great deal of debt, so they sold the song to cover their losses. Completely understandable from a business perspective, so any complaints from detractors ring hollow. Why they couldn’t have picked a better beer than that watery swill known as Coors Light is best left for another time.Back to the original question, “Did Pete Townsend sell out when he used his music to sell automobiles?”My answer would hinge on whether or not he retains the rights to The Who’s music. The Beatles sold Nike sneakers, but that wasn’t their fault because Michael Jackson owned the rights at the time. If he does, the answer is obviously yes, but since I don’t pay his bills I really don’t care. I’ll just say, “Thanks,” for “My Generation,” and consider everything else a bonus.
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