What’s Next, Mosh Pit Cruise Packages?

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For the love of punk rock, is nothing sacred? The American Association of Retired Persons is now running a TV commercial that shows healthy, vigorous elders moving about to a backdrop of the song “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” by the English punk band the Buzzcocks. This from a band whose first, unashamed single was the BBC-banned “Orgasm Addict,” a band that wrote songs about bisexuality and had lyrics quoting Beat poet William S. Burroughs, and a band who had enough street cred to open up for the Sex Pistols in Manchester in 1976.

And the AARP commercial is not even the Buzzcocks’ first ad gig. A Subaru commercial once used “What Do I Get,” a song about sleepless nights and the search for lover. Predictably, ageing punks have filled the blogosphere with comments dissing the band for both.

Adfreak riffs on the song title with the headline, “Everybody’s Getting Ancient Nowadays” and says the Rolling Stones would have been more appropriate for the AARP. Cult Punk calls the Buzzcocks ad an unfortunate “culture shift.” The blogger behind Corporate Satan Speaks Out shouted “What th…!??!?!” when he first heard the commercial, but later admitted that since the band members are pushing 50, it did make sense, sort of.

Come to think of it, since punk has been around since the 70s, it’s likely that punk rockers are turning 50 and potentially joining a group like the AARP. The AARP knows this, and they’re revamping their image to attract a new generation of folks who used to pogo at punk shows but who now can benefit from health tips and tax-filing advice. Their website even has an online jukebox featuring an array of music Baby Boomers might like, including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett, Beazley Phillips Band, Willie Nelson and Madonna. But it is a little strange that punk music ¬ known to be dissident, vile, nonsensical, unrehearsed, angry, aggressive and DIY¬ is being used to push product with the consent of the artists.

Steve Garvey, the Buzzcocks’ 49-year-old former bass player, broke it down recently when he told the Chicago Tribune that his royalty checks are helping pay for his kid’s college education. Garvey said he loves to play golf, survived cancer of the salivary gland, and has had two rotator cuff surgeries and has bum knees. In a year, he’ll be eligible to join AARP.

The Buzzcocks are not the only punk band on heavy rotation in TV commercials. An M&Ms commercial uses “This is The Day,” a song by The The, a 70s English post-punk band founded by Matt Johnson. Mitsubishi scooped up “Blindness,” a post punk song by the English band The Fall.

Blogs like “Big Mean Punk” relentlessly track other examples, such as Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, a song about heroin addiction, that now sells Carnival Cruise vacations. Various songs from the The Ramones push beer and cell phones, and Devo tunes have popped up in Target commercials and Swiffer spots, which have also used Blondie songs. (Check out more ironic and shameless advertising and product placement in our current issue.)

It’s got to be nice for punk rock musicians to finally earn some cash for songs that originally might have earned them a only beer and a sandwich. The downside is, some of the obscure songs punk kids would crowd into small, unknown, sweaty venues to hear played live by their punk heroes don’t alienate the general, mainstream public anymore—they welcome them with open arms.

–Gary Moskowitz

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