Monday, December 12, 2011

Hard Rock Or Hardly Rocking—Who Can Tell?

On a recent morning at my place of business, which is to say, the location where my job is at, I happened upon the lunchroom television, tuned to VH1 and broadcasting a concert/festival/happening entitled “Hard Rock Calling 2011.” You might expect that I'd have been bombarded by heavy guitar riffs and guttural, perhaps even ape-like, vocalizations as I poured my coffee, but in short order I instead found myself confused, because there on the stage of this ostensibly raucous extravaganza was the band Train. In case you’re not familiar, here’s what the band called Train sounds like (and also looks like, since it's a video):

I was more than a little unsure why Train—whose current signature song features an upbeat and ukulele-flavored arrangement (not to mention an ever so sweetly lilting melody)—would be on the bill at a hard rock festival. Generally I’m inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, but in this case it doesn’t help that the guy in the band Train constantly name-checks the band “Mr. Mister" (in a lilting and melodious way, of course).

Just in case you’re not familiar, here’s the band Mr. Mister:

So Train's cited influences are also pretty squarely not so much on the "hard" side of things. (Unless you mean "hard to listen to.") Considering all that, I think even The Band Train may have felt uneasy about its ("their"?) inclusion in The Hard Rock Calling festival, which is likely why they ("it"?) felt compelled to insert a Led Zeppelin cover into its set. Their set. Whatever. Leave me alone, grammar.

YouTube footage from not the exact concert, but as the kids say, "same diff."

At first it seemed like a silly ploy to confer legitimacy, but I have to admit, it kinda worked; I may have thought Train was too, for lack of a better word, "girlie" to feature in the testosterone-rich lineup of a hard rock show, but when singing that song the Train guy reminded me that back in Led Zeppelin's heavily rocking heyday, despite the bulge in Robert Plant's vacuum-shrunk trousers, nothing was more girlie than Robert Plant's voice.

Robert Plant, in squeal-inducing pants and a delightful housecoat.

Still, while Train Man's uncanny channeling of Robert Plant might have a profound and mesmerizing effect on the kind of long haired dude in a Dio t-shirt that you'd expect to find at a hard rock show, it's hard to imagine the spell lasting more than a couple minutes after the band reverted to the emasculated love songs that made them VH1 favorites to begin with. ("Duuude, that was ahhhsummm! ... Hey, what the shit is this?!")

In a desperate attempt to quell my confusion about the inclusion of The Not Really Hard And Not Really Even Rock For That Matter Band Called Train, I went and found the website for Hard Rock Calling.

There I discovered that this wasn’t so much a festival of “hard rock” music as it was a music festival put on by The Hard Rock CafĂ© And/Or Corporation. Which maybe sort of explains it, considering the level of credibility attributable to chain restaurants. No surprise, then, that the corporate overlords of this event might freely interpret "Hard Rock" as "Whatever Music Is Popular This Week." Not that it really matters; these days you can't expect a youthful concert audience to notice any such discrepancy anyway, considering what the average 13 year-old girl wearing an Urban Outfitters Iron Maiden t-shirt knows about Iron Maiden.

This one's actually an Urban Outfitters Guns N' Roses t-shirt, but same diff.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December? Remember To Be Financially Well Endowed

For three years now, the people of these-here United States have been struggling through a terrible recession. The worst, we are told, since the Great Depression! But that doesn't mean we should give in to despair, or give up the comforts we're accustomed to. No matter how bad it seems, there are some things we can still rely on—like the annual holiday ads in which happy rich people surprise their significant others by buying them luxury cars.

What could be more uplifting than this couple of smiling, post-hipster yuppies, so breezily fluent with hand-held devices and so deep of pockets? You can already tell how sweet she is, buying him that car, but notice the short "do" she's sporting?—most likely she sold her beautiful long hair to pay for the $200 smart-phone she gave him, solely for the purpose of playfully alerting him to the fact that his real gift is a car with a price tag in excess of the U.S. median income.

Oh yes, it's a beautiful scene of domestic bliss. (It also gives new meaning to the words "White Christmas.") And yet it seems something is missing. Well, their abode is conspicuously lacking a fixed gear bike, but that's probably just because West Elm doesn't sell them yet. Anyway, it's not that. It's something less tangible.

But let's not lose the holiday spirit; here's another tableau of cheerful generosity.

This version of the Lexus Christmas Fable is in many ways the opposite of the last one. We are spirited away from the young Caucasian couple in their urban penthouse loft apartment to a suburban house, inhabited by an African American family. And while the young urbanites bought a white car, this family went with a black one. Lexus has something for everyone!

As a side note, I'm troubled by the way the woman in this ad is audibly gasping for air every 3 seconds.

She might want to see a cardiologist about that. Or at the very least, an acting coach.

Potentially imminent cardiac events aside, both ads offer visions of caring and gracious people filled with the spirit of giving. So why is it that watching these feel-good domestic vignettes, instead of filling me with holiday cheer, makes me want to stab my TV with a turkey fork?

Yikes—hostility! I need to clear my head—let me take a deep breath and meditate on this.


(I like to intone the syllable "hmm" when I meditate—it's like a less embarrassing form of "Om.")

Aha—I think I have it. What seems to be lacking from these ads is something called "shame."

It's not that I believe well-off, gleeful people shouldn't buy $60K stocking stuffers for their loved ones. It's just that it's hard to believe, given the economic climate, that a company like Lexus could be so tone deaf in their TV ads.


Then again, it's not hard to believe at all, since being shamelessly tone deaf is a cornerstone of luxury car marketing.

To wit: while the common rabble are risking hefty doses of pepper spray at the hands of law enforcement to protest economic inequality (or just pepper spraying each other in order to get their hands on a reduced-price X-Box), Lexus persists with portrayals of the "better-offs" saying to their domestic partners—by way of wedding-proposal-worthy gimmicks—We have so much disposable income that I didn't feel it necessary to consult with you before I bought you what most people would consider a very major purchase, complete with leather interior, moon roof and multiple climate zones. Probably heated seats, too, but to be honest I wasn't paying that close attention.

I was going to complain that these ads are obnoxious because they rub rich people's riches in the faces of the dirty-and-poor-rest-of-us; however, having watched upwards of 4,000 Republican presidential debates in the last 8 weeks, I have become sensitive to the sensitivities of the mega-rich, and so I do not wish to perpetuate "class warfare." (Mostly because I hate being guilty of something when I don’t understand what it means.) With that in mind, like an erstwhile Republican-hopeful I am repackaging my irritation with an unassailable pro-family spin.

Lexus seems unaware that television is not the exclusive domain of potential Lexus customers. In fact—and I'm just pulling this number out of the air—something like, I don't know, 99% of TV viewers in this country are in no position to buy a Lexus. And a lot of them are hard working people with children who require food and/or electronics and a spouse whose affection is entirely reliant on the reassurance provided by expensive gifts. So the main effect of these Lexus ads (in which purchasing a Lexus appears effortless for those with love in their hearts) is to make gift-giving spouses feel ashamed and inadequate. And, that, you see, is an attack on the American Family. (See how I twisted that around? I guess all that debate watching is finally paying off.)

But do not despair, for there are still good tidings which may yet bring comfort and joy. If you are just such a sad but family-oriented gift-giver (a.k.a. a TV viewer of limited means), there is one remedy, which is to purchase jewelry from Kay Jewelers.

While not nearly as extravagant, this too will allow you to curry favor with your spouse, because as you have heard, “Every kiss begins with Kay.” So maybe you can't afford a fancy car, but things can still work out for you; Kay's slogan is, of course, the most subtle way of reminding consumers of the age-old social contract: Giving jewelry will get you what's colloquially known as "ass."

I can't help but wonder, if a relatively affordable diamond necklace will allow you to "surround her with the strength of your love," what's the result when you buy your mate a luxury car? I don’t travel in the right circles to speak the secret language, but I suspect that for those in the upper financial echelons of our society these car ads include coded intimations of copious amounts of freaky, perhaps cocaine-fueled, spousal, uh, "heated seats" in the roomy leather interior of the gift-wrapped Lexus ES, in reciprocation for the gifting of such vehicle.


At least that part is pro-family, more or less.