They're trying to sell my youth back to me in bite-sized chunks. And some of the chunks are harder to swallow than others. Forget your Mobys and Smash Mouths and Modest Mouses and the whatnots - instant sellouts, glorified jingle-writers, slick businessmen throwing trendy buzz-words around to justify their crimes - cross-marketing, symbiosis, unit-shifting. Okay, here's another one - corporate cluster-fuck.
Now it's the Buzzcocks, the Clash, the Stranglers, the Jam, the Fall, the Psychedelic Furs, Camper Van Beethoven, Squeeze, the B-52's, the Cure, the freakin' Pogues - some of my old favourites - all going for the gravy, effectively negating anything they ever might have stood for with one giant crashing "ka-ching" of the cash register. But still, even when Devo actually rewrote a song, turning "Whip It" into "Swiff It" for Swiffer mops and providing the vocals to boot, or when Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes - a vegan yet - inexplicably whored out "Blister In the Sun" to Wendy's, I thought, well, maybe there are extenuating circumstances at play here, like massive drug addictions or rampant senility. Sadly, I don't think it's anything that exciting. Greed is exceedingly boring, especially when it's the shiftless, shrugging, "why not?" variety. At least throw in some diabolical cackling while you're at it. I bet Sting cackles.
I still didn't see it coming: Elvis Costello sitting in a Lexus. I guess I didn't want to see it coming. The warning signs were there, accumulating slowly over the years as the former bag of snot turned stubble-stroking artiste, crooning and a-dabbling and sporting kooky hats, hanging out with dithering old fogeys like Tony Bennett and Burt Bacharach and getting fat while pontificating himself hoarse. By the time he married the Diva of Jazz-Lite, he was practically crackling like a Geiger counter. And I stuck with him through it all. I wasn't necessarily buying his records, but I was there in spirit. Now there he is in the back seat of that Lexus blowing some baloney about Beethoven and how great it sounds on the luxury car's luxury hi-fi, trying to have it both ways because he's not really talking about the car and they aren't actually using one of his songs. He's performing a service, really, graciously sharing a little nugget of his musical wisdom. It's a candid moment, as though his driver has gone on an errand and Costello is left in the back seat to appreciate some Ludwig Van away from prying eyes. And when he starts waving his arms around spasmodically, playing air conductor, that too is like a very special moment that we are being privy to. Yes... that's what it's like.
Except that it isn't. It's selling out. And here I thought he wanted to bite the hand that feeds him. I thought he wanted to bite that hand so badly. I was under the impression that he wanted to make them wish they'd never seen him. I stand corrected. Yet I still find it hard to believe that Costello and all the rest of them would really assume that their once youthful fans would now be so complacent and soft and conspicuously consuming that we'd take it and like it. Or that somewhere along the line I started to appreciate cross-marketing. Some of us did get soft, obviously; how else do you explain the weary refrain of, "as if you'd turn down that kind of dough"? - which is the kind of line you'd expect from a witless 15 year-old - "if you think The Matrix is so crappy, then why don't you make a better movie? And stuff..." All I know is that I'd hate to think that Shane MacGowan drives a Cadillac. Then again, I'd hate to think that he drives anything.
We have come to the point where all bets are off. The door is wide open now. I brace myself for the very real possibility of Tom Waits selling me paper towels (don't go into that barn without Bounty?), or Leonard Cohen hawking nasal spray (everybody nose?), or maybe John Cooper Clarke backing KFC (work with me here...). The big mysterious "they" win again. They always win. The lines will eventually blur into one big greasy smudge, everything will be all symbiotic and awesome, and I'll be thoroughly cluster-fucked into submission. By then I'll probably be gumming down my bite-sized chunks of repackaged youth, trying to be amused, but perhaps dimly aware that I used to be disgusted.