The Day Madison Avenue Went Too Far

Madison Avenue

NOTE: This is a story from my vaults. A couple of the references will seem dated – like Hillary Clinton running for the U.S. Senate, for example.

The first indication for Chase that the world was inherently evil came in his teens. A television commercial featuring beautiful, tanned Californians smiling, surfing, playing volleyball and quaffing numerous soft drinks, all while the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” played in the background, struck him adversely.

“That’s a great song. A classic,” Chase bemused. “Why would they cheapen it in the name of orange soda?”

As he noticed such offenses to pop music becoming more frequent in advertising, Chase came to understand “why,” quit asking the question and merely shrugged off the transgressions in mild disgust. During a long, late night channel scan, he even learned that the phenomenon was not new, when he happened upon Frankie Avalon singing and shaking with a few bikini-clad hotties while Annette Funicello sat fuming behind a table of freshly consumed and well-placed bottles of Dr. Pepper.

“It’s just one small price to pay for life in a capitalist society,” Chase thought. “I bet they don’t even have Dr. Pepper in China.”

The marketing assaults on his musical senses during the ‘80’s were particularly offensive, but the strange and plastic times had made Chase immune to the likes of Whitney Houston vending herself for Coke or the Jacksons pimping for Pepsi. But Chase’s sadistic side dredged up a wicked chortle when he learned that some bad pyrotechnics had set Michael’s prodigious and highly-flammable gerry-curls ablaze in the filming of a commercial gone wrong.

The mindless attempts at selling high-dollar items to Baby Boomers with hits from the “Summer of Love” meant nothing to Chase. He expected no less from a generation that sold themselves faster than a $20 whore to be a part of the same establishment that they had “rebelled” against. If some formerly long-haired yuppie was moved to purchase a Buick by the strains of the Mamas and the Papas, what did Chase care?

Chase watched as mainstream country music got into the act after the Garthinazation of America, and everything from pickups to blue jeans were sold to the soundtrack of every Tom, Dick and Billy Bob who had a hit in Nashville. Chase was disgusted, but unfazed.

But everything changed that cold winter day during a time-out in some forgotten college basketball game. Chase had mis-timed the length of the break during his normally flawless channel flipping and arrived back at the game one commercial early. The beat was unmistakable. The drone of the bass, the buzzsaw guitar and the singular vocal chant were all too familiar. It was the Ramones. On a beer commercial.

The 30-second spot lasted for days. Chase couldn’t shake it. He laughed, he cried, he pondered the very meaning of life. And finally he reasoned, “Hey, I love the Ramones, and I love beer. I’ve consumed them both simultaneously many times. Why shouldn’t two great and powerful things be brought together in such a way?”

Deep down he knew he was merely justifying a terrible wrong, but he managed to let it go.

Chase’s nimble remote control zapping thumb helped him avoid the appalling spot over the remainder of basketball season. He had almost forgotten the incident completely until the day he had misplaced his remote and was sitting through an arduous springtime baseball game.

He was powerless to move from the seemingly harmless commercial as it began to roll, and when he heard the first few bars of music and watched the mixture of long- and short-haired new youth partying poolside, he was struck with the same petrified amazement he had experienced only months before. And as the tune became ominously familiar, he looked up at his stereo and hoped it had magically come on by itself. It hadn’t, and he realized that the omnipotent Meat Puppets were now selling beer also. One offense Chase could forget, but two such crimes of this proportion was more than he could stand. Madison Avenue had gone too far. Now they were into his record collection.

“Okay, okay,” he thought in panic. “I’ll protest. Yeah, I’ll show ‘em. I’ll quit listening to the Ramones, the Meat Puppets…hell, all punk rock! Yeah! And I’ll quit drinking beer. Forever!”

Even in his frenzied stupor, he quickly realized both things would be completely impossible.

So Chase decided there was no recourse but to visit Madison Avenue and find the people responsible. He wasn’t sure what he would do when he found them; scream them down, slap them around, drive stakes through their hearts, or a combination of all three things; but he knew he had to find them. He found Madison Avenue on a Des Moines street map and was surprised to see that it was in a part of town he knew fairly well.

“I wonder why I’ve never seen any of those assholes over there before?” Chase thought.

He hopped into his trusty red and dented car and drove to Madison Avenue. He went up and down the street a few times and saw nothing unusual; nice houses, kids playing in well-kept yards and hail damage. Finally Chase pulled the car over, rolled down his window and asked a man who was taking his trash cans to the curb, “Isn’t this Madison Avenue?”

“Yes it is.”

“Where are all the advertising agencies?”

“Well, Ed over there in 1314 does some freelance work at home on his computer, but I believe you’re thinking of the Madison Avenue in New York City.”

With a wave of his hand and a quick “Thanks,” Chase was off. He pulled into the first gas station he saw, filled up his tank and drove to New York. The Madison Avenue in New York was a little tougher to find than the one in Des Moines, but once he got there, Chase was madder than ever. Twenty-two straight hours in the now smoking, hissing red car had not lessened his resolve for finding the people behind the commercials that had worked him into this agitation. The zipping yellow cars and darting bicyclists distracted Chase to the point that he could not look for signs on the tall buildings, so he pulled his car over and got out amidst the horns, shouts, profanity and middle fingers of the New York throng. A white t- shirt amidst a teeming mass of dark suits and briefcases, Chase did not know where to look first.

Then he had a flashback to an old job. Chase had sold newspaper advertising for a short time years before, and a superior had once told him that the first thing any business person ever notices about other business types is their shoes. Looking down at his own tattered, black high tops, he finally understood why he had never made it in the world of advertising sales.

So Chase decided to find the best looking pair of shoes on the street, follow them, and take the slim chance that they would lead him to an ad agency. It was a tough choice. The sidewalk was a bountiful sea of black and brown gleaming leather. Chase could hardly focus on any one pair as the hurried mass of humanity bustled in all directions. He was almost completely awash in soles, heels and laces when he caught sight of the most beautiful pair of shoes he’d ever seen. They were about ten feet ahead of him and moving away quickly, but Chase kept up with them by matching the hustle and rudeness of the mob.

As he gained ground on the shoes, he realized he had made the correct choice. The black wingtips were so clean and polished to such perfection that they seemed to reflect everything around them. The laces were tied tightly and neatly and did not move, despite the incredible pace of the owner. The 1/2″ heels gave off a rhythmic and sonorous clack each time they hit the pavement, and had no sign of even the slightest scuff. This had to be somebody wearing these shoes, though Chase did not even bother looking up past the neatly pressed cuff in the owner’s black, pinstriped wool pants to see who it was.

Chase was getting winded about five blocks into the chase when the shoes opened and walked briskly through some gleaming glass doors on a building so tall that Chase could barely see the top. Chase followed the shoes in and onto a crowded elevator. His eyes never wavered from the perfect shoes as the elevator ascended, and he followed them without thinking as they exited about four stops into the ride. The shoes took a sharp left turn out of the elevator and strode down a long, wide hallway at the same, swift pace they had been traveling on the sidewalk below. Somewhat fatigued, Chase followed them and watched as they went through a brown door at the end of the hall. As Chase approached the door he noticed a sign that said “Acme Advertising.”

“This is pretty lucky,” Chase thought to himself.

As Chase walked in, there was a nice-looking, middle aged woman seated behind a desk to greet him.

“Can I help you?” she smiled and said with a pleasant, perky tone.

Chase was slightly winded as he replied, “I’m looking for the guy who made the beer commercials that had the great music. You know, the Meat Puppets and the Ramones?” Chase was sure he hadn’t explained the situation completely and fully expected to have to try again.

“Oh, sure!” said the woman enthusiastically. “Those were very popular spots. Mr. Mulyar was in charge of those. He’s in the first office on the right.”

“This is very lucky,” Chase thought to himself. “Can I speak with him?” he asked.

“Sure! Go on in!”

Chase thanked the lady and walked toward Mr. Mulyar’s office. A million things raced through his mind. He had reached the end of his quest, but what was he going to do? What was he going to say? He had no answers, but knocked on the door anyway.

“Come in!” a voice inside beckoned enthusiastically.

Chase flung open the door, took one long step inside the office and stared long and hard at the tanned, slightly graying and impeccably-dressed 40-something executive.

“Hi! I’m Marty Mulyar. What can I do for you, son?” The man spoke to Chase as if he was trying to sell him a car, but Chase was at least pleased with his graciousness. Chase struggled for words but finally asked, “Can I see your shoes?”

Despite the strange request, Mr. Mulyar stepped from behind his desk to reveal shoes that were blacker, shinier and even more perfect than the pair he had followed. The hours and miles had taken their toll on Chase and his anger had given way to a subdued disillusionment. “How could you do it?” he asked earnestly while shaking his head.

“Do what, son?”

“The commercials – with the Ramones and the Meat Puppets. Why did you use those songs?”

“Did you like those spots?” Mr. Mulyar asked excitedly. “Man, that music! It’s not really my bag, but it really seemed to reach the kids.”
“Screw the kids. That’s my music,” uttered Chase with pained passion.

“Yeah, and it really moves the beer, baby!” Mr. Mulyar was unaffected by Chase’s emotion, and, sensing this, Chase got a little more irritated.

“Sure. Sure. But where does it end?” Chase asked rhetorically as he threw up his hands. “How much more great music gets abused? What song is next…” Chase hesitated a moment in hopes of coming up with something to appall the executive, and he finally blurted, “Too Drunk to F***?’”

Mr. Mulyar’s face lit up and he asked eagerly, “’Too Drunk to Fuck?’ Is that a real song?”

Chase was disappointed by Mr. Mulyar’s complete lack of umbrage at his suggestion, and said simply, “Yeah, by the Dead Kennedys.”

“Terrific! We’re working on some PSA’s for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Of course, we’d have to replace the f-word with “drive,” but that might be a perfect song!”

“You’re kidding,” Chase said, displeased and in disbelief.

“No, no! Sit down son! What’s your name and what other songs do you know?” Still stunned, Chase shook Mr. Mulyar’s hand, told him his name and sat down in the chair that Mr. Mulyar had just pulled up for him. He was disappointed that he had not offended the ad man, but he was undeterred in his attempt to make some deep, philosophical contention, although even Chase was becoming a little unclear on what this contention was.

“Well, there’s ‘Slip it In’ by Black Flag.”

“Great!” said Mr. Mulyar more excited than ever. “WD 40 is a product of one of our clients! What else? What else?”

Chase could see he was losing this battle, but thought hard for a moment and came up with the most offensive song title he knew.

“How about the classic by a little combo called Fang; ‘Destroy the Handicapped.’” He was sure he had finally made some kind of a point.

“Hmm,” Mr. Mulyar hesitated, then blurted out, “Hey, we do some work for the MDA! ‘Employ the Handicapped!’”

By the end of the week Chase was working for Mr. Mulyar at the rate of $150,000 a year. Over the next 11 months, Chase exploited, mangled and mutated a good portion of his record collection to sell everything from toothpaste to acne medicine. Chase was asked to handle the campaigns of all of the company’s clients that were looking to tap into the market of the young and hip, and his record collection was the key. Chase had always contended that these records, formerly reviled by the masses, would some day be appreciated and revered, but he never imagined it would be like this. Favorite bands that had never had a sniff of radio airplay were now being heard by millions, clients were selling as much product as they could make, and Chase was making a handsome living at a job that was as easy to him as dropping a needle on a turntable.

But it all ended for Chase as quickly as it had begun. Mr. Mulyar had been a college friend of Hillary Clinton, and she had asked him to brainstorm some ideas for her campaign for the presidency. When Chase suggested Motorhead’s “Love Me Like a Reptile” as a theme song, he was asked to leave and to never come back. Chase currently lives in Mesquite, TX, where he owns and operates a fish market, a place where he sells his sole every day without a guilty conscience.

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