Punk Sell Out

I would not have believed this if someone had told me about it. I had to hear it for myself.

We always worry about our heroes selling out. Nothing disturbs me more than seeing an aging former star, musician, etc, out hawking some god-awful product or service or whatever. For some reason, I feel a certain amount of empathy for these poor former stars who just want their name back in the spotlight, any spotlight.

But what I heard today completely caught me off guard.

I listen to WTKK occassionally, not because I’m into right wing doctrine, but because I like hearing what the other side has to say. It keeps me balanced to hear all sides. And to be honest, Jay Severin (spelling) actually makes me laugh. He is the right wing version of Henry Rollins in the way he speaks and it cracks me up. So on my break today, as I was racing to Loco’s for my burrito, an ad came on. At first, I wasn’t sure I understood what was being said. I knew I recognized the voice but I couldn’t connect to whom it belonged to.

Then the first half of the pitch ended and the voice over came over a little louder : “Hi, I’m Steve Jones calling you about Virgin Atlantic.”

I apologize now for anyone that was behind me as I slammed on my breaks in front of the Rusty Hammer and pulled over. I could not believe my ears. Steve Jones. STEVE F****** JONES!!! For those who don’t know, Steve Jones was one of the Sex Pistols. Now I know, Johnny Rotten is now a self promoting parody of himself and the image of Sid Vicious was bought and sold ages ago. But Steve Jones has always been a rock of no sell out punk rock attitude. The only thing I had ever seen him do a commercial for was an anti drug commercial in the 90’s about Sid dying and making a crack about the glamour of heroin.

Yet here he was, doing a promotional ad for Virgin Atlantic. I know the Sex Pistols as a group will do anything for money. Hell, their reunion tour a few years ago was all about the money. When asked why they agreed to get back together and do a tour, Johnny said, quite bluntly, “because of the money”.

And a few months ago, the whole band had given a collective middle finger to the entire music business by refusing to show up for their rock n roll hall of fame induction. (something, by the way, I think the Clash should have done too) I had laughed at that. Such a purile gesture but so punk rock. Gave me hope that they still remembered where they came from.

I couldn’t help but wonder who this ad was geared towards. I mean, this was afternoon drive time on a conservative talk radio station. Who listening besides me would even know who Steve Jones was? And by having an old punk rocker doing an ad on their station, what were they trying to say? Were they trying to equate conservative talk radio with the punk rock movement? Somehow, I doubt it was as deep as that. The only thing I can think is that maybe, just maybe, someone in the control pulled the wrong ad.

As I sat on the side of road in front of the Hammer, I could feel my stomach in knots. I know I should not be surprised seeing one of my heroes selling out. Happens all the time, to people far more famous than Steve Jones. But for some reason, this felt like a sucker punch. In my mind, I saw an old poster I used to have. I had it on my door at the first apartment I lived in at Keene State College : PUNK IS DEAD! It was meant as an ironic statement on the state of punk rock music in the late 80’s, right before its huge re-emergence in the 90’s. But for once, I saw that poster and I thought, maybe, punk is dead.

The real, old fashioned, f the establishment punk is gone, replaced by a slicker marketing campaign that makes all the tattoos and weird clothes and hair appear normal and venerable old grandfathers of the punk rock movement are wheeled out to give it some legitimacy.

So whats next? We have Steve Jones for Virgin Atlantic, how about we get Chrissie Hynde for shampoo commercials? Elvis Costello for contact lenses? Siouxsie Sioux for nair? Exene Cervenka for tylenol? Deborah Harry for Paxil?

I shudder to think about the possibilities……


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