The Sunday Magazine: Punk Rock Revisionist History

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Back in the late 1970’s I was into punk rock. I can confidently say that most of my contemporaries did not share my enthusiasm for the genre of music. Whenever it was in the cassette player it was greeted with cries of, “Turn that crap/noise/insanity off!” Let me say there was little affection for the likes of The Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Gen X, or Iggy Pop by many. So why oh why have advertisers turned to that music to promote products?

The first instance of this was the 2005 Diet Pepsi commercial where the cans in the refrigerator were dancing to The Ramones 1976 song Blitzkrieg Bop. Blitzkrieg Bop is one of the seminal punk rock songs by The Ramones and I can say for sure that it never got any significant airplay on any American radio station at the time. In hindsight it has been picked as one of the 100 greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone. The fact that the commercial came out four years after Joey Ramone’s death just seemed worse to me.

The next instance was also in 2005 as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line began using Iggy Pop’s paean to heroin use, drinking, and overdosing addicts, “Lust for Life”. Again this was a song that never made any kind of impact when it was released and had little airplay. I wonder who the advertising agency is appealing to. Cleaned up addicts looking for vacation ideas? Or is it much, much, much, more cynical? Are they trying to appeal to middle aged people who wish they had the courage to push boundaries when they were younger and now look back in time and see what they were missing?

There have been more examples as when Wendy’s used Violent Femmes “Blister in the Sun”, a song about masturbation, to sell their new fish sandwich in 2007. AARP, yes AARP, used the chorus of The Buzzcocks “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” to sell the idea that life begins at 50. Cadillac used The Pogues “Sunnyside of the Street” and counted on the fact that the title words were the only thing people would clearly hear from Shane McGowan’s slurred vocals and glide over the first line containing the lyrics about a “heart full of hate and a lust for vomit.”. All of these felt to me cynical as hell but there is a new recent example which just dives under my skin and rasps against my nerves.

In the new Acura commercial promoting their new 2015 TLX mid-size sedan they have chosen the Sid Vicious cover of the Frank Sinatra classic “My Way”. This song was recorded just as The Sex Pistols had imploded and was to be included on the soundtrack to the documentary film “The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle”. If somebody asked me to pick one song to explain punk rock in the 1970’s this would be the one. It starts with Sid singing the first verse in a mocking parody of Ol’ Blue Eyes including limp wristed effete arm moves and raised eye brows. As the second verse begins snarling guitars take over from the piano and you can hear the snarl on Sid’s face in the lyrics as he completely takes this song apart. Sid’s anarchic version was a gigantic middle finger to everything about music at the time and that doing it My Way meant destroying everything else. This is what Acura is using to advertise their new family friendly sedan. The commercial is supposed to come off like the design team at Acura is doing things their way but really do they think this drab semi luxury sedan is something different than the million other sedans from every other car company? Nope I think they want to convince my generation that punk rock rebellion now includes a four door sedan.

For anyone under the impression that drinking a Diet Pepsi and a Wendy’s Frosty on a Royal Caribbean Cruise on an AARP discount where your Cadillac and Acura are parked back at the lot makes you a rebel or a punk; you’re not. You’re just the victim of a mid-life crisis in musical form.

Mark Behnke

One thought on “The Sunday Magazine: Punk Rock Revisionist History

  1. There is something so repugnant about the use of this music in these ads. But I have to admit, the fact that the line “a lust for vomit” made it into a Cadillac commercial pleases me just a little.

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