One day in the fall of 1990, or maybe it was ’91, I discovered a box my cousin had left at our house. In the box was a black cassette tape with a grubby label. On one side, recorded in long play mode to fit it all, was the Beastie Boys ‘License To Ill’ and Concrete Blonde’s ‘Bloodletting’.
On the other side was the Pixies ‘Doolittle’.
To say that this black cassette with its ball-point scrawl changed the course of my life is an understatement in a major key.
The Pixies, especially, informed the choices I’d make in the music I listened to for a very long time. Belle and Sebastian over boy bands, My Bloody Valentine instead of bro rock.
So, your first instinct might be to assume that I’d feel a bit betrayed by the Pixies when one of their songs showed up in a new iPhone ad from Apple today. Not so much.
The ad, if you haven’t seen it, is very good. The general consensus is that it’s the company’s best in a while, which is good because they’ve had a few stinkers and a few sanctimonious ones that looked more like b-roll on the background TVs in utopian sci-fi flicks than an ad for people today, right here.
The ad is grounded in what people can do with the iPhone in a specific creative arena — music. An arena that Apple has always had an affinity for. Part of that comes from Steve Jobs, who was, by all accounts, a true music fan. Because of the attention paid to making them good tools for musicians, Macs have had a special place in the recording scene for quite some time.
So it’s a savvy move for Apple to tap that goodwill — and a raw, electrifying track by the Pixies — to create a very effective ad for the iPhone.
Remember, too, that Apple was not always the media behemoth it is now. At one point it was offering iTunes as a lifeline to musicians being eaten alive by illegal downloads while labels did nothing to prevent it. U2’s Bono called iTunes “a very cool thing for musicians and music,” when it was launched on Windows for the first time.
As for getting up in arms about the Pixies allowing their song (even if it is one about a voyeuristic love-making session in the shade of a big tree) to be used in a commercial — I will get over it. In what I’m sure is no coincidence — the Pixies have a new full-length album out for the first time in 23 years. Twenty three years is a long time, and the Pixies have spent most of that just playing shows and ‘breaking up’ in the most chill anti-establishment way.
The new album means that I get to hear new Pixies music, and so do you. And a whole new generation of people — just like the ones in the commercial — get exposed to a Pixies song just like they did Feist, Wolfmother, The Fratellis, The Ting Tings, Jet and a bunch of others.
I’m not trying to tell you how to feel about this. The Pixies and other bands on its label were standard bearers for a time when the music getting played on the radio (remember that ha ha) was at its most homogenous, and headed towards an even blander future. You may hate the idea of ‘Gigantic’ being used to sell iPhones.
But I say maybe, just maybe, Apple is selling iPhones just so more people will buy a new Pixies album, and that is ok with me.
The Pixies’ new album is available digitally, on CD and on vinyl. It is not available on cassette.
Image Credit: Free Photos & Art/Flickr CC