Chapter Two

Pimps, Rebels, and Volkswagens

jazz sells, Mark laver, Grinnell

This chapter introduces several of the key questions and themes that structure the rest of the book, investigating the seemingly contradictory ways in which jazz has become implicated in commerce and consumer culture. I argue that the relationship between jazz and consumer culture has most often been understood as fundamentally oppositional. A number of scholars have argued that the use of jazz in advertising constitutes an example of co-optation, a quintessential commodification of dissident counterculture by the culture industry; and indeed, this argument is convincing and, in many respects, accurate. I propose, however, that greater attentiveness to the shifting discourses of jazz and capitalism yields a more nuanced perspective that demands a reconsideration of the relationship between the two as something other than simple Manichean opposition. To that end, in Chapter Two I examine the terms of this dichotomy by interrogating the presumed hierarchical relationship between them: rather than considering the effect of an oppressive and pervasive hegemonic system of commercial exchange on a subaltern music, I discuss the active engagement of two representative artists within that system: Charles Mingus and his widow Sue Mingus. Following a detailed consideration of Charles Mingus’s own vexed relationship with the North American culture industries, I focus on a 1999 Volkswagen campaign that drew on Mingus’s well-established countercultural capital.

“II B.S.,” Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, Impulse!, 1963

Volkswagen Jetta ad, “Great Escape,” 1999, featuring Charles Mingus’s “II B.S.”

“The Clown,” The Clown, Atlantic, 1957

“Folk Forms No. 1,” Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, Candid, 1960

Volkswagen Cabrio ad, “Milky Way,” 1999, featuring Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”