All posts by Stephen Macaulay

Is This Website Real & How Do You Know?

A front-page story in a recent edition of the LA Times looked into the creation of web sites for entertainment products—films—by alleged fans. As the story, “Fake Fans, Fake Buzz, Real Bucks” by Dana Calvo (20 March ’01), opens: “The 34-year-old computer whiz in Silver Lake got a phone call from the friend of a friend—the head of publicity for a movie studio. The offer as $10,000 a week for an Internet ‘project.'” The project was to create an indie-appearing website to flak a movie.

The story of the generation of the enthusiasm for The Blair Witch project is well known. And because of the usefulness of the Internet to create interest (Blair cost about $1-million to make; it grossed, according to Calvo, $128-million in just five weeks), this is becoming a marketing strategy. And let’s face it: movie companies are record companies. The names are different but the suits are the same.

Calvo writes: “The hired enthusiasts don’t reveal that they are on entertainment company payrolls. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to verify which Web pages are by genuine fans and which aren’t even by tracing the registered owner of the site.”

Which strikes me as somewhat disturbing.

Take this site, for example. How does someone know that those of us who post to this page aren’t really in the thrall of some anti-Sting cabal? How does someone know that there is actually more than one person writing this stuff? I don’t want to get into some sort of riff on solipsism here (“Hmm. . .I haven’t been to France for a while: How do I know Paris exists?”), but to simply muse on the fact that those who participate in the creation of bona fide sites about stuff really need to concentrate on providing authenticity of voice, a reality that can’t be bought by corporate suits. I suspect that if you were to go to Yahoo and search for a pop artist, beyond the “official” sites there are more than a few that are nothing more than genuine-for-hire. It may be dismissed as just a matter of the unenlightened not getting it (“So what?”), but it seems to me that this is sort of a slippery slope to the world described in 1984, where the Government (or in this case, the Industry) creates the entertainment for the proles. And there are one hell of a lot of proles whose spending affects what gets elevated and what gets quashed.

There could be an argument raised that this is done only for the “name” acts, but isn’t it posible that given the comparative low cost of creating sites (the guy from Silver Lake obviously got one hell of a deal; I imagine that Jake may be wondering at this point. . .), it would be the marginal artists who are more likely to be the ones for whom Internet crypto marketing is done. The budget may be low, but the Internet is infinite.

The truth may be out there. It’s just hard to find.

(Next time: Man on the Moon? Fact or a bad movie shot at Area 54?)

Oops!. . .and the Joy of Monosyllabic Thinking

Back when this site was young, there was a spirited discussion about the phenomenal and physical attributes and values of Britney Spears; consequently, it surprises me that there hasn’t been an analysis put forth about what Spears has recently put out, the lead Pepsi commercial that was broadcast during the Academy Awards telecast. Her packaged paean to the Dionysian aspects of brown carbonated sugar water was in itself unremarkable; the synchronized dance number with a crowd of clones was fresh when Paula Abdul did them, and Ms. Abdul’s sell-by date is long passed. While I am not insensitive to Spears’. . .charms (and I am not referring to the Pepsi logo charm that she had dangling from her belly button), I submit that (a) if she had to put on her own makeup and (b) she was a bagger at Meijer’s, few—if any—of us would give her a second glance. Such are the transmogrifying powers of celebrity.

What is more telling about the nature of pop culture and pop music from those who are manipulating it is the clear contempt with which the consumers of the products are treated. This was evident in the commercial aired in order to keep viewers in an increasing state of anticipation for the Spears commercial to come.

You may have seen another commercial aired last year for a product that is used to remove brake dust and related detritus that adheres to car wheels. There were two guys sitting in plastic-webbed lawn chairs, one of whom was holding a garden hose, both of whom had synapses that fire like a Zippo without fluid. “Yew jus spray it on.” “Yew jus spray it on.” Brilliant. A car-care product for morons.

In the case of the Pepsi spot, the main character is evidently a younger brother (or perhaps uncle) of the two who, in this case, has a job. There he is: white paper hat and apron. A fry cook. (Who among us has not had to wear such gear?) He is shown looking up at something while a fireman in full regalia is frantically working behind the kid, dousing a grease fire (or perhaps Michael Jackson’s dome engulfed in flame, which, as you may recall, was the consequence of a Pepsi ad). Said fry cook is oblivious. The camera reverses so we can see what the slack-jawed focus is on: a TV showing the Britney singing-and-dancing Pepsi commercial (yes, a commercial within a commercial). “Yew jus drink it down.”

What does this say about what Madison Avenue thinks about the consumers of pop?

Time to Put Out the Red Light, Sting

“That Sting—he’s a really good singer.”

—Sting, in a pre-Academy Awards interview during which he explained that (a) he was unlikely to receive an Oscar for “My Funny Friend and Me,” a song that he and David Hartley wrote for “The Emperor’s New Groove (he was right) and (b) what the members of the Academy were going to be thinking after his performance of the tune during the ceremony.

The first time I saw Rod Stewart in concert was in the very early ’70s at the Birmingham Palladium (Michigan, not England), when he was with the Faces, a band that featured the likes of Ron Wood and Ronnie Lane. As the band was essentially unknown then (people may have known the Small Faces), it was a listening situation where my friends and I sat on a bench with our feet propped up on the stage. I saw Stewart and the Faces several times after that, primarily at Cobo Arena. They’d become known. At the end of ’75, Stewart went solo. Before he became a disco Vegas lounge act (without playing Vegas: just running with the accoutrements and the approaches), I’d seen him multiple times.

Although I’m sure that many of you are wondering why anyone who openly admits he’s seen Stewart several times would be permitted to post stuff on the main page, I should point out that (a) when playing Detroit, he’d often invite the likes of David Ruffin on stage, (b) even on the peroxided “Blondes Have More Fun” (’78) he does a respectable version of “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” and (c) “The Mercury Anthology” (’82) is nails.

In 1984, after moving back to Detroit from a stint in Rockford, Illinois (Warren Zevon during a concert at the city’s Metro Center: “Rockford! ROCKford! How can you miss with a name like ROCKford!?! All 100 or so of us in the largely empty hall could have clued him in), my wife and I went to a concert at Pine Knob. It was Rod Stewart. He was out in support of his “Camouflage” album.

Let me say this about that: I once sat through a Three Dog Night concert. (Oddly enough, the lineup was Rod Stewart, Johnny Winter, and then the Night(mare). Unfortunately, I didn’t drive that night and the guy I was with had no idea who the other two acts were. I was nearly whipped to death by the fringe on his suede cowboy jacket as he kept time to the Dog’s greatest hits.

Fortunately, I did have the keys for Stewart at the Knob. We left. Fast. It was embarrassing for me to watch. I am only surprised that it wasn’t mortifying for him.

While never really being much of a fan of the Police or solo Sting, his is a career that is somewhat hard to miss. And there have certainly been some high points.

But will someone tell the guy that it is over? Elsewhere on this site the whole notion of musicians selling their music for wallpaper in ads has been debated. I don’t think anyone has gone as far as Sting and the Jaguar commercial (“What does a rock star dream of?”) He isn’t even driving the damn car! What is that all about?

I happened to catch him during the preshow activities at the Superbowl, during which he ended his act by jumping down about 2.5 feet from the top of an amp. Wow! That’s REALLY rockin’, Sting. His performance of the song referenced above during the Academy Awards show would have seem oddly stiff had he not hit so many flat notes.

Just as Stewart doesn’t fool anyone, Sting’s antics are pulling the wool over the eyes of only those who book acts for big, televised events. Oh, yeah, and the millions of people who still buy his whorish releases.