Badly Drawn B(h)ummer 

And an intriguing new anti-Starbucks campaign

Wednesday, Feb 28 2007
{mosimage} SO, THE PLUMBER’S TAKEN OVER MY HOUSE this afternoon, and I go to Starbucks on Glendale Boulevard like a damn dirty yuppie to get some work done. Oh, God. Starbucks in Silver Lake, man. They’re totally playing their new Doors compilation. Yes, Starbucks has a Doors compilation. And, no, nothing’s sacred anymore, and nothing’s genuinely cool, or dangerous, and nothing has any meaning anymore. Giovanni Ribisi was just in here. (The Scientologist.) It’s brutal.

Starbucks does make a heck of a good cup of coffee, though. I ain’t hating. And the parking-lot security guard outside this Starbucks is awesome today. I spot him through the front windows. He’s got a nightstick and dark sunglasses and everything, and he’s holding a large cup of coffee in his left hand (excuse me: make that a venti). The PA system out front is blaring “L.A. Woman,” and our man is out there, knees slightly bent and bouncing, holding a coffee with one hand, jamming on an invisible Vox organ with the other. He’s just a-rockin’ the Doors today, and it’s a sight to behold.

Moments like this — perfect moments of musical humanity — keep me alive, and remind me that good music will always transcend corporate abuse. I need that today. You see, last night I saw an ad that crushed some small part of me (perhaps the pinkie finger of my soul): Elliott Smith’s “Something to Talk About” used in a Hummer ad. By far, it’s the worst-ever abuse of pop music in advertising.

Okay, granted: It’s not technically Elliott Smith. I mean, if you’re determined to get all factual about it, “Something to Talk About” is actually by that English guy called Badly Drawn Boy. But come on, people. That song is pura fake Elliott Smith. Don’t even front.

Yeah, I know: Smith was hardly a stylistic innovator himself. (Just ask Nick Drake, the Left Banke, the Beatles, et al.) Still, Smith’s music has a certain something-something that is undeniably his own, and it’s precisely that unique Smithiness that Badly Drawn Boy imitates here. In fact, the song is so faux–Elliott (Elli-nott?) Smith, it’s as if Hummer had bought it purposely because they couldn’t get a real Smith song. They wanted the groovy-indie-mellow Elliott Smith vibe to sell their freaky military yuppie vehicles — and they got it! If I were a big Elliott-head, I’d be suing both Hummer and Badly Drawn Boy right now for vibe infringement and spiritual-property theft.

Just to make things more perverse, of course, that song was originally used in a Hugh Grant film soundtrack (About a Boy, whose title was lifted from a Patti Smith song about yet another canonized Gen-X suicide, Kurt Cobain — who once wrote a really good song called “About a Girl,” which I’m pretty sure he never sold to a commercial.)

Interestingly, during a Google search on the topic, I discovered an article from a year ago documenting Hummer’s desperate search for indie music for their ads — and the overwhelmingly negative response from the struggling bands they’d approached. According to the article, Hutch Harris from the Thermals said, “It was a really easy decision. [Hummer] is just so evil” — after being offered 50 grand for a song. Hero! Great American hero!

SPEAKING OF GREAT AMERICAN HEROES: Prince at the Super Bowl. I watched his performance while eating at Sizzler. I watched, and my heart swelled with pride as a Prince fan, and an American: Here was further proof, in the flesh, that all is not ruined in our culture. Here was a real rock star — a genuinely subversive creature (even after all these years!), a truly challenging visionary, a musical genius and a hell of a showman, schooling the planet in the Elements of Style. The fireworks were fun, and the “We Will Rock You” reference was heartwarming jollity, but what really exploded on that stage was Prince’s guitar — and the overmastering Truth that that was all we needed. Just Prince and his guitar, leading us along an intuitive, spiraling pathway through his own internal songbook: fellow Minnesotan Bob Dylan — via fellow freakazoid Jimi Hendrix; his own fantastical ode to ambition, “Baby I’m a Star” (off Purple Rain); “Proud Mary” (one of those weird soul songs you’d never guess was written by a white guy); and then the Foo Fighters nod with “Best of You,” just to prove he can make any song sound great. (And who knows? Maybe it was a wink at the Foos’ “Darling Nikki” cover.)

I have long asserted that Prince is the greatest living guitarist, having seen him in arenas and also at 3 a.m. at Paisley Park, during the strange late ’90s. One night, he was dressed in a gold lamé body suit, performing for 18 fat teenagers in parkas, and he shredded, and he was the greatest rock star in the universe.

And another thing: That Super Bowl show was also great because it wasn’t perfect. Rock should never be perfect.

It was sort of a mess in some ways — beautifully so: the rain, the possibility of electrocution, or at least spontaneous Boston riffage. It was alive. The shadow play was a hoot too.

Thank you, Prince, for keeping rock fucked up. Perfectly fucked up. Today, you’re my Greatest American Hero.

*STARBUCKS UPDATE! So, I’m still sitting here at Starbucks in Silver Hell (as Summer once called it on the late, great The O.C.). Still typing. Predictably, I’ve been forced to fork over 10 bucks to T-Mobile in order to get online. I wouldn’t mind this so much if scary Catherine Zeta-Jones hadn’t been its spokeswoman for so long.

But just now, I get an e-mail about an intriguing new anti-Starbucks campaign. Apparently, if you’re sick of having to pay up every time you go online at the ’Bucks, you may now have an alternative. I haven’t tried it out, so this is by no means an endorsement (!). I am merely passing along the information: There’s a new group trying to completely screw with Starbucks by offering people who live near Starbuckses free wi-fi routers. The idea is for Starbucks customers to log on for only two bucks — half of which goes to the neighbor with the wi-fi box! (I know it sounds complicated: Details may be found at www.fon.com.) This new entity calls itself “Fon.” Very IKEA name, there. (I can just picture it in the catalog: “FØN: our newest modular shelving system, which we will discontinue after six months so you will never be able to match it with anything you buy at IKEA in the future, and which you will eventually leave on your curb.”)

Seriously, though: If anybody out there has tried this new Fon thing, let me know how it goes for you. Till then, rock on, babies.

* [Sent via a T-Mobile wireless connection.]

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Reach the writer at ksullivan@laweekly.com

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