Chumbafan | 30.01.2002 00:33
In which Chumbawamba give General Motors permission to use "Pass It Along" - a version of which appears on their album WYSIWYG - to sell Pontiac cars...
Basically, we decided a long time ago not to conduct our affairs according to those guidelines. They’re politically restrictive, they make ‘the movement’ look like an elite club (members only) and they’re boring.
Of course there are lines to be drawn, and some would argue that allowing Pontiac to use a song for an advert is drawing the line in the wrong place.
Here’s why we don’t think so. After much discussion and worry, we okayed it in the same manner we’d okayed quite a few other uses of our music in the past few years - by acknowledging that the amount of money we were being offered could fund anti-corporate activists for [literally] years. And so, long before the ad was aired, and before saying yes, we offered to give the money away to an active anti-corporate group. We’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars.
We asked these people if they wanted that money from that source. They said yes. If they’d said no, we wouldn’t have allowed Pass It Along to be used on the advert. So we pass the moral buck, let someone else justify the decision, and in turn know that some people will villify us for it - and when our fiercest critics find out who gets all the money, I doubt they’ll be getting in touch with them to tell them that they "Sold Out".
What we get out of it is exposure; people might hear the song and go out and buy an album. An album that came out ages ago, which isn’t readily available, and which contains a totally different version of the song. That's the knock-on effect for us. But hey, I’m making excuses.
We do have a list of companies we refuse to have any dealings with, and we’ve had the pleasure of turning a lot of them down. Even big, big money sometimes isn’t worth it, when there’s an acknowledged and recognised consumer boycott (Nike, Nestle) or general awareness of a company’s involvement in various nasty practises (The Gap, Coca-Cola).
Of course we’ve made mistakes (loads of them) but we accept our own inconsistencies and refuse to make every slip-up into a guilt-heavy hairshirt. And criticism, when it’s not holier-than-thou finger-pointing, is what keeps us on our toes and keeps Alice deliberating over email responses late into the night (OK, I'm exaggerating - but just a bit).
As always, we accept that it’s our lot to get slagged off by the mainstream media for being boringly po-faced, dogmatic, and over-attached to the yoke of radical politics; and to get criticised by the DIY scene for being sell-out capitalist conformists. When we first started to be offered money for playing rock n’ roll we didn’t sit around worrying about our credibility, we thought, “what are we going to do with this, then?” And we spent it on becoming self-sufficient and in control of what we do and we spent it on having a good time (because that’s allowed!) and we gave a lot of it away.
We’d discovered through all the years of having no money just how powerful it can be if it’s in the right hands.
We don’t expect everyone to pat us on the back (since we mostly don’t announce that we ever gave anyone any money anyway) and the same few critics are constantly going to dog us about our Selling Out, but sometimes it’s worth trying to explain what we do.
People are beginning to embrace a wider-reaching, less-exclusive version of radical politics - the growth of the anti-globalisation movement and the worldwide support for the Zapatistas, for instance, has brought different kinds of people and politics together surprisingly effectively. And we have this notion that taking huge amounts of money from some major corporations and giving it all away is within the scope of that umbrella of acceptance, in a way which wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago. If it wasn’t - and the way we’d gauge that is probably subject to debate as well - then we’d stop doing it; but right now we don’t think that would actually do any good in real terms at all. Apart from making us look squeaky clean.
So anyway we’ll carry on trying to work out each problem as it comes to us, bouncing ourselves between corporations and political groups in the hope of spreading round some ideas and money. And when we run out of both, I’ll retire to my island retreat and have the maid pour me Pina Coladas.