RIGHT AFTER THE LAWYERS, WE KILL THE AGENCY BOYS
It was probably just a couple of months, but seems like a hellish eternity ago, that SBC, the uber phone company, rolled out its new ad campaign, whose theme seems to be, "We paid Eric Clapton an absolute goddam fortune for merchandising rights, and by heaven we're going to wring our money's worth out of the man, his image and his music, even if we have to provoke music lovers to mob violence in the process."
In empirical terms, this means beating us--and "us" evidently includes the entire U.S.--absolutely to death with the same three or four radio and TV spots featuring references to Clapton and snatches of a couple of his signature compositions, repeated endlessly in the local and national electronic media.
Specifically, they only sample two of his songs, at least so far. On the one hand, I always considered "You Look Wonderful Tonight" to be a marginal and forgettable little ballad just a few notches above waste-of-good-vinyl. But I really liked "Layla," and I use the past tense deliberately, bitterly, and unhappily.
SBC has effectively ruined "Layla" for me, and I suspect for thousands of others, as only TV and radio advertising can: by hammering us with it, besieging us with it, playing it O-ver and O-ver and O-ver until even if it had been my all-time, far-and-away favorite piece of music (there really is none, but "Come Go With Me," "Turd On The Run" and "Scheherezade" are all contenders), I would by now have come to hate it, or at least dread and cringe at the sound of it.
You know what I'm talking about, and the truth of it. United Airlines and "Rhapsody In Blue," hey? I rest my case.
And like United, SBC would ruin a delightful, even transcendent piece of music for me for one purpose only--to try to sell me something. To curry my favor. To cast themselves in a positive light.
Why and how they thought this would work is a mystery to me. What exactly was the marketing logic here? "If we can so relentlessly and shabbily exploit something that he values that he he actually finds himself detesting it and the process that debased it for him, he will want to do business with us"?
And while we're on the subject of Raging Irrationality, here's another question: Why Clapton?
What the hell does Eric Clapton, the man or the musician, have to do with telephone service, or high-speed cable, or electronics of any kind? If you want to peddle your ringtone downloading or video streaming capabilities, any music will serve to illustrate the features. There's no need to befoul genuine greatness while making your point. If you have to reduce a popular piece of contemporary music to the level of commercial irritant, why couldn't you trash out Toby Keith or 50 Cent or, if you're dead set on taking down a piece of classic rock, the Electric Light Orchestra, one of whose songs actually opened with a ringing phone?
Or "Beechwood-45709," for God's sake: there's your natural hook, your lyric tie-in, your logical play.
And whatever possessed Clapton to go for this deal? He had to know how they were going to flog his music until it was brutalized, transformed from iconic rock classic into annoying branding jingle. I can't believe he needed the money, although I suspect, based on the recent spike in assorted Service Charges, Regulatory Fees, and a veritable serpent's nest of Surcharges on my phone bill, that the amount was gargantuan.
Still and all, I prefer to think that Clapton wouldn't sell, almost literally, his artistic soul for any amount, especially when he's probably still drawing royalties from The Yardbirds. My guess is that he was sold this bill of toxic goods by some business manager or licensing agent who stood to rake off a tidy 10 to 15 percent commission.
So. SBC harvests the alienation of multitudes of potential customers, and Clapton inherits a disillusioned and jaded fan base. Only the Philistines come out ahead.