A Time to Shill 

Smoking Popes/ What's That Smell?

A Time to Shill

For some time now Tower Records has shown more interest in maintaining a well-stocked Calvin Klein display than in maintaining a well-stocked CD selection. Now this: the Figgs, Jimmy Eat World, and Chicago's Smoking Popes--all young "alternative" bands on Capitol--begin the two-week God Bless America tour in New York on Saturday. A vivid display of corporate cooperation and co-optation, God Bless America is jointly sponsored by the bands' label, Tower, Rolling Stone, and Calvin Klein Cosmetics. The bands will play small clubs and colleges at night, but during the day they'll perform acoustic sets at various Tower branches while free samples of Cal's "cK be" fragrance and a Capitol CD sampler are foisted upon unsuspecting customers. In a press release for the tour, Rolling Stone associate publisher Kevin O'Malley boasts, "This unique and innovative promotion will generate consumer interest and brand awareness across the country."

But for whom? None of the bands has exactly burned up the charts, and it seems unlikely that shilling for Calvin Klein will do much to alter their fortunes. It does seem like a surefire way to surrender whatever street cred they might have.

Calvin Klein's ubiquitous ads--one of which pairs model waif Kate Moss with sallow Royal Trux growler Jennifer Herrema--give the impression that his clothing and fragrances are for everyone, regardless of race, gender, or personal hygiene. In the same release, Paulanne Mancuso, president and CEO of Calvin Klein Cosmetics, says, "Our motive is to take this fragrance to where the people are. It's about getting out there beyond traditional media into the real world." Where, now that rich folks like to dress as vagrants, the best way to separate them from the poor is apparently by scent. The Chicago stop of the tour is scheduled for September 16 at Fireside Bowl, the bowling alley-cum-punk-rock venue.

These guys ought to take a hint from the Wu-Tang Clan: if you're going to use your music to sell lifestyle accessories, why not use it to sell your own? That's what the New York hip-hop collective's main man, RZA, has done with "Wu-Wear: the Garment Renaissance," his recent single with Method Man and Cappadonna. The crew has been hawking its own line of clothing, Wu-Wear, for a couple of years now, and last year opened a retail outlet in Staten Island. A few weeks ago they opened a second store in Atlanta, and the RZA single--taken from the forthcoming sound track to the movie parody High School High--doubles as a commercial to celebrate the expansion.

Claiming "Ain't what you want, baby / It's what you need, baby," the tune suggests the purchase of Wu-Wear not only as a fashion statement, but as an integral part of a black-identified lifestyle. In doing so, RZA intones, the fashion plate must stop patronizing a host of mostly white-owned designer names popular with hip-hoppers, including Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Perry Ellis, Fila, and Armani.

Postscripts

As reported here, Ajax Records closed the retail arm of its indie-rock operation in late August; what wasn't known at the time was that owner Tim Adams also intends to shut down his well-respected label to concentrate exclusively on mail order. "I no longer got a kick out of putting out records," says Adams. "I couldn't take the label to the next level because of everything else Ajax does." Adams also had trouble securing an acceptable manufacturing and distribution deal, which would have freed him from many of the time-consuming technical hassles of running a record label. Just out on the label is Nothing for Juice, the new album by eccentric bedroom rockers the Mountain Goats (who play Saturday at the Empty Bottle). Singles by Seam, Swell, and Roy Montgomery, new albums from the Renderers and Ashtray Boy, and the compilation Hey Dan K., a send-up of Drag City's Hey! Drag City collection, will be the label's final releases; the last should be out by February 1997. n Following in the footsteps of Crucial Conflict, the Chicago rap foursome taking up a two-page spread in the current issue of Interview, the west-side group Do or Die has released its debut album, Picture This, on the Virgin-distributed Rap-a-Lot/Noo Trybe label. The group's single "Po Pimp," a local smash this spring, has recently charted nationally (number 20 on Billboard's R & B chart and third in rap). The single, bolstered by a guest spot from speed rapper Tung Twista and soulful slow-jam crooning courtesy of Johnny P, brings the west coast to the west side--but it's an anomaly. Elsewhere, despite its gangsta postures, Do or Die mines the same territory as Crucial Conflict, fusing soft staccato rapping a la Bone Thugs-n-Harmony with a lazy, distended take on the frantic Miami bass sound--though without a gimmick like Crucial Conflict's country shtick, and with fewer musical innovations than its Chicago brethren, Do or Die seems unlikely to attain the same level of success.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Smoking Popes photo by Michael Halsband-photo manipulation by Godfrey Carmona.

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