In late June, The Nation ran a piece by John Densmore, drummer for The Doors, describing his fight against selling out to advertising companies. Like rats, these companies swarm the three remaining members of the band, offering ever-increasing sums of cash in return for the right to co-opt the emotional cache of the Doors’ songs. Hey — it worked for Moby, it can only help you as a band, right?
Well, no. At best the use of emotionally-charged music ironically reveals the limitations of ad execs’ awareness, as in the case of the Jaguar ad fueled by The Clash. At worst it can undermine memories and emotions that are, for better or worse, locked to a song. “We Can Build You”, indeed — where’s Philip K. Dick when we need him?
Continuing this discussion, the current issue of The Nation features a letter by Tom Waits, penned as response and support for Densmore’s position. Waits has had his own brushes with advertising; in 1990 he was awarded damages in a suit brought against Frito-Lay, who had used a Waits sound-alike for a radio spot after being repeatedly turned down by the real thing. That trial is a landmark of sorts, establishing, as Waits puts it, “that my voice is my property.” That such an essential, obvious truth need be proven in court reveals far too much about our culture, and the price we’ve put on it.
Thank you John, for not taking the cash-laden route and thank you Tom, for an eloquent public expression of support.