2015 is apparently the year to get paid in country music, and no stone is being left unturned, and apparently nobody is immune. From mainstream country artists who we once thought were the few remaining renegades with integrity that are now releasing trendy R&B singles, to some of our favorite country heroes’ faces, names, and songs ending up endorsing products or stamped on packaging that ends up being something less than flattering.
The latest involves a Volkswagen commercial that just began airing across television. As some soccer mom is complicit to the horrors that ensue after she takes her little monsters to the corner store to gas up, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” plays in the background. The whole premise is that if you buy Volkswagen’s Passat diesel, you can wait 800-something miles between fuel ups and won’t have to unleash your little hellions in a convenient store. Or you know, you could just discipline your kids, but what’s the fun in that when you could just spend an extra ten grand in excise taxes and luxury markups for an imported sedan?
But isn’t how we really feel about these ads have to do just as much with how they’re used, and the products they endorse? Some are getting all hot and bothered about this commercial, but my guess is if you’re a Waylon and Willie fan who has a similar fandom for a certain German auto maker, you may be rising up out of your Lay-Z-Boy and cheering when this particular advertisement passes across your screen.
Hearing Willie, and especially Waylon in an commercial is particularly rare, and that may be what’s lending to some of the shock value here for some viewers. But it certainly isn’t unheard of. Remember when the Outlaw duo was turning their Pizza Hut slices backwards to enjoy the savory pepperoni baked right into the stuffed crust? After Willie’s big IRS bust, he was singing about the woman with the “Rose Tattoo” that offered the weary traveler down on the border a steak burrito supreme from Taco Bell.
Mexican food seems to be a favorite of Willie’s. In 2012 when he covered Coldplay’s “The Scientist” for a Chipotle commercial during the Super Bowl, some said it was the Super Bowl’s best commercial, and the best musical moment of the entire event (sorry halftime performer Madonna).
The Willie/Coldplay/Chipotle mashup was pretty moving. But still when you boil it down, in the immortal words of Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he finally received his Little Orphan Annie decoder pin and deciphered the first message, “A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!”
It could be worse though, right? Just today, writer Steve Haruch writing for Narratively published a piece about visiting the newish Johnny Cash Museum in downtown Nashville, and being somewhat shocked to see the Man in Black’s visage on baby bibs and other memorabilia, diminishing the towering country legend’s legacy.
“No matter how much we love them or maybe because we do it seems our most revered figures are doomed to end up as little more than ghosts shilling for merchandise emblazoned with their name,” Mr. Haruch observed with Cash’s “Hurt” video as the backdrop. “And here, trapped in a flat screen above the door that is both museum exit and gift shop entrance, the anguished end-of-days Cash, bent over his piano in fury and despair, seems more like Ozymandias than the Man in Black.”
It’s a good thing he didn’t scamper a block or two down the road to the freshly-opened George Jones museum. There you can find cans of bug spray branded to be a play on words of what some consider the most revered and reverent song ever recorded in country music. “He Stopped Bugging Her Today” the cans say, made of all natural citronella. Never mind the rows of “White Lightning” moonshine jars branded with George Jones’ “badass” pose, conveniently overlooking the fact that Jones struggled with the sauce his entire life, and outright despised it in his final years.
Some people saw it as poetry last week when upon the opening of the Jones museum and the anniversary of his passing, the moonshine still where White Lightning was being brewed burned down after an explosion. Maybe it was the ghost of George Jones enacting his revenge, some have surmised. Maybe the foremen at the Volkswagen Passat plant should be looking out for the ghost of ‘Ol Waylon monkey wrenching with the equipment. Maybe there wouldn’t be anything to worry about if it was at least a domestic manufacturer he was shilling for.
Then there’s the idea of hey, this is great exposure for these older artists that otherwise may not be heard by the masses at all since radio has left them behind. When was the last time a mainstream country radio station played “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys?” It was probably when Waylon was still alive, and Pizza Hut was still stuffing peperoni in their crust. Miranda Lambert has a song called “Roots & Wings” that might be one of the best song she’s ever done, but you won’t find it on your radio. You have to wait for the next 30-scoend spot on your television paid for by Dodge trucks.
Recently Roger Miller filled many hearts with joy when his “Oo De Lally” Robin Hood song was set to images of baby animals playing together and distributed to television in 30-second spots. What was the commercial for? Frankly, I can’t remember.
But I’ll never forget Roger Miller.