Selling your soul to the advertising devil

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Spare a thought for the family of the late Johnny Cash this week. They discovered that one of Johnny's romantic masterpieces, the 1963 classic "Ring of Fire", was to be used in a commercial for a haemorrhoid ointment. The Cash family blocked the deal immediately. Johnny Cash's daughter Rosanne, also a singer, explained that the family would never allow the song to be demeaned in this way. When she hears the lines "And it burns, burns, burns, that ring of fire" she is in no doubt that "it is about the transformative power of love. That is what it will always mean to us".

You can see her point. Where, one might ask, will it all end? No doubt, there's a laxative company out there somewhere itching to change "I Shall Be Released" to "I Shall Be Relieved". And I don't even want to think about "Blowin' in the Wind". But, for Rosanne, her late mother, the country singer June Carter Cash (also a co-writer of "Ring of Fire"), and the rest of the Cash family, blocking the deal had two inevitable results. First, it led to painful, punning headlines on both sides of the Atlantic of the "Cash family turn down piles of money" variety. Second, there were those piles of money. Allowing your tunes to be used as the backing tracks for adverts or promotional campaigns is a lucrative business. Mick Jagger, the most business-savvy of all rock stars, negotiated a fee of $500m a year from Microsoft for the use of The Rolling Stones' song "Start Me Up" for the Windows 95 launch. And numerous songs were given a second lease of life by the Levi's commercials.

Indeed, one of those songs was "Ring of Fire", which Johnny Cash himself allowed the jeans company to use in 1999. There's the rub. The Cash family seems to be saying that a song can be used for a commercial, but not one that might make the song a joke. Trousers are OK. Medicinal creams that relieve pain are not.

Understandable, but a song is automatically made one-dimensional when it is used in any commercial. "Ring of Fire" was about more than looking good in jeans. Once you hand over a song to an advertising agency it becomes a mere jingle and any lyrical complexity will be lost. Indeed, ad agencies will usually miss the point. Paul McCartney was right to block a trainers company using The Beatle song "Revolution" - not least because the song wasn't advocating a revolution. It was expressing anxiety about it.

If you want to be fussy about the integrity of your song, the answer might be to keep it away from ad agencies altogether. I don't look forward to the day when a raincoat manufacturer uses "Jumpin' Jack Flash".

And the award for mockery goes to ...

Tomorrow the winners of the Olivier Awards are announced. I have noted before that the Olivier awards for opera are a joke, as there are only two dedicated opera houses in London (and only London is eligible); so the Royal Opera House and English National Opera are always in the frame. But now there is worse. The chairman of the awards committee, Peter Wilkins, has admitted West End producers and other Society of London Theatre insiders can add names to the shortlist without the inconvenience of having to turn up for the performance. This, he said, may explain why more people voted for Helen Mirren, in Mourning Becomes Electra, than her co-star Eve Best. They may not all have seen the show, but they know Mirren has the bigger reputation.

Perhaps critics should write reviews without seeing the shows. It would save time and money, and they know plenty about the actors' reputations. If what Mr Wilkins says is true, then the Society of London Theatre has debased both the awards and the name of Laurence Olivier.

¿ The GMB has launched a campaign to unionise roadies. While the rock stars can make millions, their road managers make a pittance, it is claimed. But does the GMB realise what it is taking on here? It is not just that union officials might have to take over responsibility for a steady supply of groupies. They will also, presumably, have to ensure that there are no changes to the roadies' traditional pre-concert work routine. They must test the mikes, move the mikes, test the guitars, move the guitars, signal to each other, receive signals back, and then do it all over again, and again, and again. And members of the road managers' fraternity must have 1970s haircuts. All this needs to go into the next GMB rule book.