VW and Wilco: Jeff Tweedy, Nazi

The car of the people.So I saw the ad a couple of times last night as I watched the death throes of my beloved Pistons. I thought it was just another clever car commercial that used an outtake from a new album, but apparently it’s much more: VW and Wilco create music and advertising first:

In a new form of music/promotion/communications, the band Wilco’s recently released album Sky Blue Sky is the soundtrack to Volkswagen’s latest TV campaign. This new form of marketing collaboration has the creative forces of Wilco and VW combining to launch both an album and a VW campaign in the same week. The partnership spans multiple commercials and multiple songs, with the first song being “The Thanks I Get.” […] It’s also the first-ever licensing deal for Wilco.

Inevitably, the fans lose their minds arguing about whether or not this constitutes a sellout.

And Tweedy’s own brother-in-law uncovers the real scoop:

“Jeff Tweedy IS a Nazi!! […] I bet marrying my Jewish sister was just a ruse to further his white supremacist agenda. All that liberal twaddle he spouts at his concerts is just a front to hide his nefarious activities and his devotion to Satanic causes.”

Check out the controversial “new promotional photo” Jeff Tweedy “had taken following the debut of the Volkswagen campaign.”

Heil Wilco!

Good to see he’s keeping a sense of humor about this.

You’re supposed to be able to download an mp3 of “The Thanks I Get” from Wilco’s site if you insert your Sky Blue SkyCD. But I couldn’t get it to work. When are those dudes going to realize that Quicktime is a media player, not an application development environment?

Previously: Sky Blue Sky review; much more.

46 thoughts on “VW and Wilco: Jeff Tweedy, Nazi”

  1. i read through some of the posts at via chicago. all i have to say is that some of those folks have to put down the remote and step away from their television sets.

    commercials are only intrusive if you allow them to be. i saw the commercial in question and found it tastefully done. of course, i do everything in my power to avoid commercials in general since most of them are downright boring to no end.

    don’t get me wrong, give me the right kind of commericial and i’ll watch it for a half hour straight. earlier this year i came across a local infomercial for “city auto auction” on a local cable station and i couldn’t pull myself away from it. it was like a saturday night live sketch on steriods. there was no way they didn’t know how funny they were making it… but i digress.

    ok, so wilco will have songs in commercials. and maybe most if not all their album. that’s not a first. moby’s done it with his album play. and it made it a huge album. though, that was a different time and a different place.

    i have no problem with a band that is as fan friendly as wilco making a couple bucks. i have no ill feelings toward jeff tweedy for having his songs in vw commericals. now, that soundtrack for chelsea walls is a whole other thing… god was that some boring stuff.

    so, if it bugs you that their songs are overexposed in a commercial and you repetatively see them on television… maybe you should ask yourself why you’re watching so much television in the first place.

  2. This is all just a little too Moby for me, but what are you gonna do? Sigh.

    I don’t watch much TV anymore (we may not even get these ads in Canada), but if I do come across one, I’ll be diving for the remote.

  3. I don’t know…it bothers me to see Elvis Costello hocking cars for Lexus and it bothered me to hear the Wilco song on the VW commercial. I saw it over the weekend…it’s a good commercial but what ever happened to underground artists eschewing commercials/crass marketing of their products? Now, I know Wilco can’t be considered underground anylonger…nor can EC, but that’s where they came from. I would think they should know better.

    Perhaps Tweedy had to one up Farrar one last time getting six of his songs on commericals to Son Volt’s one VW commerical.

  4. Wilco responds to the controversy:


    As many of you are aware, Volkswagen has recently begun running a series of TV commercials featuring Wilco music.

    Why? This is a subject we’ve discussed internally many times over the years regarding movies, TV shows and even the odd advertisement. With the commercial radio airplay route getting more difficult for many bands (including Wilco); we see this as another way to get the music out there. As with most of the above (with the debatable exception of radio) the band gets paid for this. And we feel okay about VWs. Several of us even drive them.

    If you’re keeping track, this is not the first time Wilco has licensed a song to or even been involved in a commercial — most recently a TV spot for Telefonica Mobile in Spain used a Wilco song and some years prior Jeff Tweedy appeared in a campaign for Apple Computer. Wilco have licensed hundreds of songs to television shows and films worldwide… from festival-only indie films to major motion pictures and weekly TV shows.

    Thus far the songs in the VW campaign are “The Thanks I Get” (a bonus track from Sky Blue Sky sessions, available for download via the Enhanced CD and via iTunes) and “You are my Face”. We expect to have more details re: other songs shortly. The current plan (subject to change, like everything) is for 5 or 6 songs to be used.

    That’s it. Don’t believe everything you read unless you read it here.


  5. nice response by wilco, just about what i would expect. though, this just hit me… why weren’t people up in arms about the crass exploitation by jeff tweedy by having his kids in a cereal commercial? of course, i’m joking. maybe some folks did mention that. maybe not. anyway, i say if it helps them pay the bills and keep making music. fine. if i have an issue with it, i’ll just turn the television off.

  6. Does having your music in a commercial really have a significant impact on sales? (Everyone always brings up Nick Drake… I know, I know!) When I hear a song in a commercial that I’m not familiar with, I just assume it’s a jingle. It would never occur to me to try to find out more about the person who wrote and performed it. Maybe that’s because I’m usually trying to tune it all out.

    Can nothing remain unbranded?

  7. I wonder, Dreamin’. I know that personally I’ve looked up several songs I’ve heard in commercials over the years, but I’m a geek:

    – Badly Drawn Boy: via a Gap ad featuring “The Shining.” Since then I’ve bought several of his albums.

    – Kings of Convenience: “Toxic Girl” was used in an ad with a couple on a bus, texting each other, or something.

    – Mary J. Blige: her “Family Affair” was recently used in an ad for water, or something.

    There are lots more, but those three come to mind. I rarely remember what the ad was for, but good songs stick with me for years.

    Most recently, I just discovered V2 casualties the Rosewood Thieves and their awesome song, “Los Angeles,” because it was used in last week’s episode of “Entourage.”

  8. it’s not so much that i begrudge wilco a chance to earn a living. however, they have a top 10 album, consistent concert sales, merchandising, and a great fan base. the question is really how much is too much and at what point do they jump into bed with the corp zombie types that they had problems with a few years back?

  9. It’s really easy for some of us who aren’t faced with the realites that musicians deal with to sit back and snipe at musicians who find a way to make a few extra dollars with their music.

    Given the volatility of the music industry, tanking CD sales, and the fact that Wilco’s current popularity guarantees them exactly nothing in the future, it becomes a wise move on their part to cash in while they can. Throw in mortgages, children with futures to plan for, etc., and it becomes a no-brainer.

  10. That’s a good point, Jude.

    People always cite Neil Young as someone who refuses to sell out, but Neil can afford to float in a bubble of virtue because he doesn’t need the money or the exposure. If he was starting out today, it might be a different story. (Not to mention the fact that being an illegal immigrant in the US is not as easy as it used to be in the 60’s.)

    Given the grim reality that bands like Wilco face today, “This Notes For You” seems a bit quaint.

    PS: I still hate the idea of the big brands taking over every available crevice of public space and co-opting things that are near and dear to me. But that’s a different issue.

  11. it’s not the idea that i begrudge them the money. it’s also not that they shouldn’t make money as they see fit. it’s their decision.

    however, i do think asking the question, how much is too mmuch is fair given how much success they’ve had over a good number of years. it’s not like you can claim ‘starving artists’ here. it’s also not a valid arguement to say they are really trying to expose their music to wider audiences…their demographic is pretty well set and most don’t listen to the radio as a avenue for listening to and discovering good music.

    The reason VW went after wilco’s songs is because they believe the wilco fanbase and those who have heard wilco are the same demographic they are looking to sell cars to.

    I just think enough is enough with artists selling their songs. it’s a crass way to treat the art that so many of us value.

  12. I don’t know that I’m all that clear on what “selling out” is…Wouldn’t it suggest that Wilco’s sound, their art, would somehow change in pursuit of greater commercial impact? While change has been a constant in Wilco’s sound, it has never struck me as though tbey were trying to be more accessablity to the masses. Their music has never felt like a product to me, so I’m not offended hearing them on commercials…shit, it makes the time wasted feel less so.

  13. RE: bcrane

    I don’t know that there is only one definition of selling out. The fact that the music has or has not been affected by the commercialism is one way to consider the issue.

    Another way, and really the angle that I most often consider it, is looking at the issue from the way in which the art, once created, is marketed.

    Wilco is a band I’ve listened to and been a fan of for quite a long time. I’m 35 and listened to Uncle Tupelo in college and have followed Wilco since AM. I will continue to listen and purchase Wilco cd’s. However, I really think licensing the music as some product to then be used to sell another product seems to demean the music in my opinion.

    Sure they get some money, and possibly some wider audience or notoriety, but the music itself…songs that I’ve spent time with and absorbed in personal ways to be used in commercials just rubs me the wrong way.

    Not to over dramatize it, but it just seems out of place. Similarly, hearing the Violent Femmes on a BK commercial, etc. just demeans the music in my opinion.

  14. “I just think enough is enough with artists selling their songs. it’s a crass way to treat the art that so many of us value.”

    it keeps it so that these artists can still makea living making their art

  15. if this all means i am allowed to watch tv and hear wilco at the same time i’m all for it….not to mention the fact that a bit of extra dough in the bank for these fellas only means that we can continue to have cheap tix to the shows….seeing a band this amazing for $35 is already a steal…especially when they have 6 band members to pay. how much did you spend the last time you went to see a solo artist?

  16. I guess I just don’t buy into the arguement that they couldn’t make a living if they didn’t do the commercial. They have a loyal fanbase, a top ten album, and a long history of successful tours. the question really becomes how much is too much relative to a band’s right to earn a living, etc.

  17. Cat,

    I’m not sure the argument is one you should be buying or not buying. You’re not in Wilco. They’re adults and I’m sure they carfeully considered any licensing decisions.

    Again, success in the music world is usually very fleeting. Wilco is doing okay now, and they have been very fortunate, but that doesn’t mean that they will always be making enough money just by being Wilco. Wilco is doing “well” compared to most bands, but they’re not selling out 80,000 seat stadiums. They don’t make superstar money.

    Jeff et al might well not have allowed the use of their music 15 years ago when they were much younger, but these guys are pushing, if not past, 40 years old. While they’re probably not thinking of “retirement” in the way that most working people do, they have to think of their futures and the futures of their families (such as they might be).

    BTW, the licensing deal might not be between Wilco, the band, and VW, but between the individual songwriter(s) (Jeff, I assume, in this case) and VW (or the ad agency).

    I agree with some of the other posters here that the music itself was not compromised. It isn’t like they wrote the song or altered the song especially for VW. So how exactly is that “selling out?”

  18. Jude, this has come up before, but I think it’s worth repeating.

    I think it is possible for an artist to sell out its fans when it licenses its songs for ads. Tom Waits said it better than I ever could:

    Songs carry emotional information and some transport us back to a poignant time, place or event in our lives. It’s no wonder a corporation would want to hitch a ride on the spell these songs cast and encourage you to buy soft drinks, underwear or automobiles while you’re in the trance. Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle, a word that describes the sound of change in your pocket, which is what your songs become. Remember, when you sell your songs for commercials, you are selling your audience as well.

    Of course, this is coming from a guy who collects publishing royalties from every copy of Springsteen Live/1975-85 that was sold (the Boss covered “Jersey Girl”).

    Personally, I have no problem with Wilco selling songs from SBS to VW, because I have no emotional connection to any of those songs (yet).

  19. Would it be okay to slap a big VW sign on the Mona Lisa if it meant more exposure for that work of art? It wasn’t just one song for retirement’s sake, but nearly half of a complete work of art.

  20. I knew the Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa was a friend of mine. And Sky Blue Sky, Senator, is no Mona Lisa.

  21. As perhaps a sidenote, Wilco is going to get an extra slice of slack from this listener; in terms of how they choose to make their money, given how cool they’ve been with how I spend mine…I

    haven’t yet purchased a Wilco album prior to actually listening to it. And I’ve purchased them all.

    And besides that, it’s difficult, and kinda silly, to hold an artist accountable for what his/her art becomes after bouncing around our individual noodles; regardless of where we heard it…CD’s, MTV, the radio, a commericial, a buddies car, etc. Wilco’s music does not FEEL, to me, like a “product.” And that’s where I, as merely one fan, draw the line between a “sell out” and a band trying to be true to the form, while simultaneously trying to take care of their families. BTW, many of your posts have sent me out to wander my yard, pondering. Thank you.

  22. hh44

    Altering the Mona Lisa would be a crime. Wilco didn’t altere their song. If they had, this would be a completely different argument.

    BTW, virtually every time I have ever been to an art museum, music fair, theatrical production, etc., the sponsors of various exhibits has been made very clear: “Impressionist Masters, made possible by a grant from American Airlines…”

  23. Jude-

    I see the logic of your point. In a sense they didn’t alter their art one bit. It’s just, to me, art is in the perception of the beholder; and my perception, right or wrong, has been altered. Maybe it’s just arguing semantics at this point, but I’m still grateful to have this band around.

  24. wrong or right doesn’t matter to me.

    irony has been overplayed a lot, but between “thanks i get in the commercial” and “what light” on the album, it’s hard not to think of the parralels of art and life.

    “thanks i get” could be a two way street… fans feeling upset with the artist for treating them badly, or vice versa. sure, it’s a song surrounding a ficticious relationship. but if that relationship in the song is used as a metaphor for fan/artist, then the song can be viewed as a begining dialogue regarding trust and starting over after a percieved infidelity.

    “Now I’m tired of the looks you give me when I get home late

    And I’m getting tired how you forget the lovin things I say

    I hold you tight

    I treat you right

    Now everytime I go out to play

    Why you think im leaving

    Is that the thanks I get for loving you?”

    is that tweedy reaching out to old fans trying to reason with them about wilco getting more popular or moving beyond the intimate relationship they once had? probably not, but it’s fun to read way too much into his lyrics. has been for years now. isn’t that part of the fun being a wilco fan.

    “what light” is more straight forward. a song about coming to terms with the idea of who “owns” a song once it goes out in the world.

    “If you feel like singing a song

    And you want other people to sing along

    Then just sing what you feel

    Don’t let anyone say it’s wrong

    …And if the whole world’s singing your songs

    And all you’re paintings have been hung

    Just remember what was yours is everyone’s from now on”

    is tweedy coming to terms with his celebrity or is he rationalizing how his art has become co-opted by fans and corporation alike? neither or bother. doesn’t really matter.

    “And that’s not wrong or right

    But you can struggle with it all you like

    You’ll only get uptight”

    is he just playing a big joke on all of us? yeah, that’s probably giving him a little too much credit. but, i’m a wilco fan afterall, and that what i usually do.

  25. Totally, Vit. Remember that Tweedy is a huge music fan himself, so all the shit we struggle with when our favorite bands do stuff we don’t necessarily like, he probably struggles with too.

    “What Light” is definitley a statement about the current state of the music biz vs. fan vs. artist environment.

    Tweedy’s lyrics have always been self-referential. And every star that hides on the back of the bus is just waiting for his cover to be blown…

  26. man, did i type “neither or bother”? i really need to check the junk i write before i post it.

    “fucked the layup.”

  27. ok. let’s take this away from wilco and move it towards a more generally artistic question:

    Can one be a serious artist or attempt to make a serious artistic statement and at the same time be overtly commercial?

    I’m with Tom Waits on this one…and vote no…at least at this period in time.

  28. Let me think on how I conceptualize “artistic statements” and what it means to be “overtly commercial” and get back to you.

  29. I think life’s too short to care one way or another.

    The privilege of being able to entertain people is extremely competitive. Getting people’s attention is very tough. And the ability to use a song “artfully” in a commercial is greater.

    And we’re all used to it.

    Gone are the days when music was common cultural currency. Songs just aren’t as precious. We have to remember to call a pop song “art” pre-1960s would have been considered pretentious. Now, music is back to being just another competitor for your attention.

    I would think certain songs are just not appropriate for this kind of use, but really if the artist approves, then c’est la vie.

  30. hate to bring it back to wilco, but…

    just noticed that amc channel is using “what light” as the music for their “see the light” campaign to highlight friday evening movies. or at least that’s what i gather from catching have the commercial when i walked back into the room when i heard wilco playing.

  31. I thought it was kind of cool to hear Wilco on the VW commercial. At least it wasn’t a commercial for a pill to make my dick hard or “improve my stream.” I’m glad to see a boy from Belleville making the music he wants to make, and if VW likes it enough to want it, fine with me. I remember the Uncle Tupelo gigs at the Cicero’s basement bar when Jeff was working at a hardware store. Nobody deserves it more than that band. If you really want to make yourself sick, try to listen to “Dance Tonight”…

  32. Wilco fans get over it!!! I loved hearing their song in the car commercial. Sky Blue Sky is their best album(right from the get go) and a lot of fans and critics have been saying “it is a step down from their last 2 studio albums”. Bullcrap. This is the album I’ve been waiting for them to do. Back to basics….a drizzle of The Band and just playing some great music. Album of the Decade!!

  33. The Wilco song ruined the VW commercial. At this point I like the creative energy of the VW ad agency better than Tweedy- and that god awful song sucked the life out of the ad just like the new songs sucked the life out of the Wilco show.

    Its a dreadful album and none of the songs should be used for either artistic or commerical purposes.

  34. Jake – thanks for posting that wonderful insight from Mr. Waits… you’re right – couldn’t have said it better myself. But, I have to ask, what does his collecting royalties from a cover of his song have to do with Wilco licensing half of an album to a corporation? It doesn’t seem to negate his comment about the “jingle”. It is a totally different situation…

  35. Matt, I mentioned Bruce’s cover of “Jersey Girl” because it gave Waits the financial luxury and freedom to turn down any potential offer thrown at him. I.e., he doesn’t need the money.

    I’m not suggesting that allowing cover songs is in any way comparable to selling songs to advertisers. In fact, thanks to compulsory licensing, artists don’t have any say in deciding whether or not their song can be covered.

  36. Breaks my heart. I don’t have a problem with them making a buck either – that’s why I buy every album and pay for every download and buy tickets to every show – but this blows. It like when Bowie sold “Changes” to Pampers!! please stop the madness! Those songs are my songs not some ad guys scheme to sell cars – and that’s coming from a marketing guy.

  37. Breaks my heart. I don’t have a problem with them making a buck either – that’s why I buy every album and pay for every download and buy tickets to every show – but this blows. It like when Bowie sold “Changes” to Pampers!! please stop the madness! Those songs are my songs not some ad guys scheme to sell cars – and that’s coming from a marketing guy.

  38. Amen to just joe. Used to go see Tupelo and then Son Volt and early Wilco when they played the Blue Note in Columbia MO.

    Jay Farrar is the one who needs to be selling songs for ads. I’m sure that poor schmuck needs the money way more than Tweedy and the boys.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *