Stop and Smell the Marketing

Modern marketing at a party for the Wallflowers, where Jakob Dylan proves he's a nice guy

Dear Kierston,

I don't write or call as often as I should. I always imagined myself being the kind of older brother you'd brag to when you kissed your first boy or you'd call late at night when you were nervous about something you couldn't tell to Mom and Dad. I figured I'd introduce you to the cool music and the mind-blowing R-rated movies, that I'd scream at you when you did something stupid but would understand because I'd probably done the same thing back when I was 15. Instead I live in San Francisco and you live in Orange County and my chances of being Mr. Cool Older Brother are growing slimmer by the day.

And so this one goes out to you.

I wish you could have been there. It was last Wednesday, and we were hustling to the W Hotel on Third and Howard, where the Wallflowers, your favorite band, were performing a private concert for VIP types. I've never considered myself a VIP; a Person of Varied Importance, maybe, but not a VIP. And these pseudo-glitzy promotional junkets are never the glamorous to-dos they promise to be. They're really just long infomercials.

You know how I'm always hostile and bitter toward everything you and Mom like, the Olsen twins, those Amanda Bynes movies, etc.? Well, this sort of event is part of the reason. It drives me nuts to see the amount of money that big companies like Interscope, the Wallflowers' record label, will gladly throw at purely promotional crap. It's the whole starving-children-in-Africa impulse: Record companies complain about their continued financial losses every quarter even as they burn dough so that Mr. and Ms. Bald-Spot Cellulite can catch a free, up-close glimpse of a band whose albums I'll bet they don't even own. Meanwhile, smaller, better labels that can't afford these promotional frills get screwed, thanks to the de facto payola system (look those words up: "de facto" and "payola") that dominates the radio and MTV, the only outlets through which someone like you might get exposed to new music.

But I'll stop with the lecture because you probably don't care. You want to know how the band was, right? OK, let's get to that.

Wait, first I want to tell you something else. On our way to the fourth floor, where the Wallflowers thing was, we took a wrong turn and ended up on the third floor, where a crowd had congregated for what we mistakenly figured was the concert. It wasn't. Instead it was a whiskey company that was doing a marketing event, handing out free food and drinks to "consumers" whom it had recruited for some kind of focus group. Needless to say, my friends and I partook of the Sidecars (you'll learn about those when you're 21) and brie hors d'oeuvres before high-tailing it out of there. I mention this because I want you to know that the theme of this entire evening was "marketing." Marketing is all around, and you must learn to be aware of it and resist it, because it is venal, which means "Open to bribery; mercenary: a venal police officer," and "Capable of betraying honor, duty, or scruples for a price; corruptible."

Anyway.

We arrived on the fourth floor about 15 minutes before the show started. Since the event was outside and it was raining, the hotel had set up a large, clear-plastic overhang to keep everything cozy; I imagine that if you'd peered down from a higher floor you'd have seen what looked like a terrarium wherein intensely made-up women and their sport-coat-and-jeans-wearing beaus were being subjected to some strange anthropological experiment involving free rum and bright blue foam earplugs.

Just after 8 p.m. the band took the stage. Jakob Dylan is a looker, with chiseled features and piercing blue eyes -- an airbrushed version of his dad, really. His band is similarly primped: The lead guitarist is skinny and weathered, like he earns his keep busking Midwest bus stations, and the keyboardist sports a shock of died blond hair and rock 'n' roll sunglasses. In spite of the pomp, though, Dylan came off like a pretty down-to-earth guy. I was able to take a picture of him with the camera on my phone.

The big bummer was that the band played only six songs, most of them new ones like "Here He Comes (Confession of a Drunken Marionette)," a tune that so egregiously rips off the "Here she comes" pre-chorus to the Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl" that I'm surprised Ric Ocasek hasn't issued a cease-and-desist order. Who's Ric Ocasek, you ask? Well, in addition to penning some of the best songs from the '80s as a founding member of the Cars, he's also a producer, responsible for neat-o albums like Weezer's two self-titled releases and some of No Doubt's Rock Steady -- see, learning is fun!

Anyway.

I'm just gonna come right out and say it: I'm not a huge fan of this band that you're a huge fan of, mainly because, to me, Jakob and friends do nothing more than reheat the blue-collar rock songs of everyone from Rick Springfield to Bruce Springsteen to Tom Petty to the Knack (which did "My Sharona"). And I don't much care for this new album either, Rebel, Sweetheart. That said, I'm glad you do. And what the hell, I'm glad the old couple in the elevator we rode back down to the third floor post-show likes the Wallflowers, too.

Ah, the third floor. We headed there for the VIP afterparty. Milling about, snacking on cheese and wine (honest to God), were all these "Important People." Jakob Dylan was among them. That's when I called you on the phone and put you on hold, then marched up to Dylan, interrupted some girl who claimed to own the local magazine 7x7 and who proudly admitted to both Dylan and me that she was "very drunk" (indeed, only a very drunk person would claim to own 7x7), and asked the rock star if he wouldn't mind speaking to my little sister. As you recounted to me, your conversation went something like this:

Dylan:Hey there, is this Kierston?

You: Yeah, hi.

Dylan: So I hear it's your birthday, are you turning 15 or 16? [This was a little white lie; Kierston turns 16 on July 25.]

You: Sixteen.

Dylan: Wow, 16 is a great year, lots of things kind of begin at 16.

You: Yeah, it's pretty exciting!

Dylan: So why aren't you up at the show with your brother?

You: Well, I have two days of school to finish up, but I would be up there if I could!

Dylan: Oh, well, we will be in L.A. soon; I can't tell you exactly when, but keep an eye out for us.

You: Oh, cool.

Dylan:Will you come to our show?

You: Of course, if I can come, I will be gone most of the summer in Europe.

Dylan: Oh, well, you go to Europe. The Wallflowers will be here when you get back.

You: All right.

Dylan: Well have a happy birthday, have fun in Europe.

You: Thank you, nice to talk to you!

Dylan: Yes, bye.

You: Bye.

OK, props to Dylan. He's a pretty cool guy.

The moral of this story, Sis, is that when a record label or whiskey company or whatever offers to give you something for free, there's usually a catch -- they want you to run out and buy it or tell your friends about it (or write a column about it ... d'oh!) You have no obligation to do this -- do not fill out their survey, do not give them your address, do not wear their T-shirt. Just take the free stuff -- take lots of it, stuff your bags and pockets full of it -- and exit stage left. In this way you can feel like you're getting just a little bit back in exchange for the never-ending stampede of venal sounds and images relentlessly trampling your cortex for the rest of our modern days.

Love,

g.

P.S. Have fun in Europe!

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