Revolution Evolution

Volunteers When Jefferson Airplane recorded “Volunteers” in 1969,
it was an anthem celebrating the era’s spirit of
rebellion that was dedicated to toppling the
Establishment and everything it represented. The
street referred to in the song’s opening lines, “Look
what’s happening on the street/Got a revolution,” most
definitely wasn’t Wall Street. Back then, the very
idea that “Volunteers” would ever be associated with
corporate America in a way that didn’t involve tearing
it down brick by brick would have been as
inconceivable as a Beatle being knighted.

Which just goes to show what a difference a few
decades can make, as Sir Paul McCartney would surely
agree. Recently, “Volunteers” was used in a TV
commercial for an on-line stock trading company (which
shall remain nameless without a substantial
promotional fee), presumably to emphasize how the
company is “revolutionizing” the way people invest
their money. No doubt, this ad was the brainchild of
some young ad exec who thought “Volunteers” was a
catchy tune, but who had absolutely no clue about the
meaning of its message or its context within the
turbulent social climate that inspired it.

If something like this had happened back in 1969, some
people would have considered it an irrefutable sign
that the Apocalypse was close at hand. At the very
least, it would have caused extreme outrage and
indignation on both ends of the political spectrum.
Today, nobody seems to be complaining, and
“Volunteers” is apparently seen as just another
classic rock song that’s being used to sell a product.
While it probably doesn’t portend the end of the
world, it is certainly ironic in a weird, twisted
way–like a Hunter S. Thompson version of an O. Henry
story. The long trip just seems to get stranger all
the time.