Last month I received an email with this subject line:
“Bucks and Gallants mentioned in RollingStone.com!”
It was sent by a good friend, but I figured it for a cruel mistake since B&G was my band, we were relatively unknown, plus we’d broken up ten months ago.
But there we were in a curious spread called “The Indie Rock Universe”. We were appointed the region of Spazmodica, “An Alternate Dimension Where Everyone Wears Black Converse”, shared by Liars, Les Savy Fav, and others:
I usually have a keen bullshit detector. If something’s a little off, I’m suspicious to a fault, even if it means being wrong. I hadn’t read Rolling Stone since Reagan was president, so in the scheme of things I was still flattered and amused our band was even named alongside much bigger acts. Then last week, the other shoe (black converse) dropped:
Camel [cigarette] ads coupled with illustrations promoting rock music in Rolling Stone magazine violate the tobacco industry’s nine-year-old promise not to use cartoons to sell cigarettes, prosecutors in various states said Tuesday.
Attorneys general in at least eight states planned to file lawsuits against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. starting Tuesday about the advertising for Camel cigarettes in the November edition of Rolling Stone, officials said.
The section, titled “Indie Rock Universe,” is designed to look like doodling in a student’s spiral-bound notebook, with drawings of planets made to look like animals and characters. It features Camel’s name and logo.
I’m resigned to laughing it off. Bucks and Gallants teetered back and forth for four years, through the death of friends, lost opportunities, shitty equipment, personnel change, a very grimy summer tour, and inevitable emotional vectors that pulled us apart. So to break up, only to get mentioned in Rolling Stone, only to be revealed later as a shill for Camel cigarettes — it’s a bad comedy. It still remains a mystery how someone at Rolling Stone or Camel got a copy of the CD and deemed it passable enough to get mentioned in the first place. Certainly, none of the labels was notified their bands were being used in that context.
I should say, there are times when music and advertising together aren’t completely repellent. Here’s another story for contrast, excuse the casual name-dropping:
For a while in 2004, I played keys and guitar for my friend’s Eli’s band, Bottom of the Hudson. They’d just been signed to Absolutely Kosher Records which meant we’d be leaving on a two-week tour with the Wrens, travelling from Virginia, to Chicago, up to Minneapolis, then south through a few towns on the way to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest. It was a fantastic experience, lots happened, the crowds were medium-to-large and enthusiastic.
One show that stands out was our first big one, held in Chicago at Logan Square Auditorium. We played after The Constantines and before The Wrens. The event was put on by Empty Bottle, Pitchfork Media and The Onion, and above the stage hung a huge plastic banner advertising all three.
In fact, logos for all three were everywhere. On every flyer covering the city block, on the tickets, on the backstage door, on t-shirts and on quarter-page ads in the city paper. They almost dwarfed the names of the three bands playing that night.
What’s notable is that representatives from all three entities attended the show, mingled backstage, engaged us in conversation and generally gave the impression they were invested in music far beyond any endorsements or advertising. It benefited us to work with them, and vice versa and the arrangement was obviously 100% transparent. Ryan Schreiber ate hot dogs with us on the floor backstage, two reps from The Onion helped haul in a cooler of beer. It felt like a slummy indie rock moment, but also kind of nice and genuine, which is also how I would (to my own surprise) describe the aforementioned writers and editors.
Anyway, sneaky advertising isn’t new, nor is the co-optation of subculture by advertisers looking for next big cash cow. I don’t know if I’ll ever tour again, or even play music live again, but I know playing in a band these days leads people to do some seriously stupid shit for money and exposure. Then again, others are determined to accommodate bands without any hype, money or endorsements at all, more militantly than ever.
In the meantime — anyone wants to buy a CD?