Spin Cycle

What's Going Wrong

By Raymond Tyler
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 10, 2005

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I'm in a barbershop talking and checking out raunchy pics of a famous female music VJ in one of those Playboy "starter kit" magazines. Then I'm hit upside the head by an image that makes me wonder if all these years of Bush lies have finally made me snap.

"This isn't a 'Hen Dog' ad with the photo from Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, is it?" I ask the barber, as he's shaping up a young man who's been waiting to see the "photojournalism" in the magazine I'm holding.

"It's crazy, ain't it?" the barber replies, shaking his head.

Now I don't drink anything stronger than Kool-Aid (shaken, not stirred), but I respect people's right to drink responsibly.

What's Going On being used to hawk Hennessy, however, bothers me. The LP, released in 1971, is both a Vietnam War protest letter and heartfelt social commentary set to street music. Gaye used songs like "Inner City Blues" to explain how it feels to be a second-class citizen in America, and what it was like to live in communities torn apart by booze, drugs and poverty.

The scalding lyrics from "What's Going On" and "Save the Children" burned on to inspire hip-hop and neo-soul. And while I do have tapes of old hip-hop audio and video ads by Ice Cube, EPMD and G Rap selling St. Ides Malt Liquor (or "liquid crack," as we used to call it), I fully understand why Public Enemy's Chuck D-who's always been a voice for positive change-was upset when his voice was sampled for liquor ads. Alcohol is not a product Chuck wants his name tied to.

And I definitely don't believe that Marvin Gaye secretly hoped his album would one day be used to push alcohol in the inner city. This ad effectively knocks the teeth out of What's Going On and makes a mockery of Gaye's musical legacy.

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