When I was 10, a new coach was hired at my swim club. Mr. Buell came from Houston, a charming hustler in short pants. I was all in. Then one afternoon, during his first week on the deck, while I was swimming backstroke, I looked over on the sidewalk next to the outdoor lanes, and there he was smoking a cigarette. What? I flipped over onto my stomach and swam on, boiling with disappointment.
That's how I felt when I first saw the Avett Brothers selling corduroys in the new "Fit for Original" Gap Be Bright ad campaign. By comparison, Mr. Buell was a lot uglier, I'll grant them that. Seth and Scott look good enough to eat. And they look exactly alike, which is the point. The pitch is that we can look like them, too.
I admit I'd like to look like Seth Avett. And I don't begrudge the musicians for making money. The Gap's 2011 profits were $833 million. I hope these boys from Concord, N.C., got as much of that as they liked.
So what is it about the ad that bums me out? Is it because two of my favorite musicians are selling pants or is it because those pants are Gap pants? The Gap peddles a style of saturated, clean-as-a-pin sameness. Am I down on the ad because this is in conflict with everything I think of as artistic?
Could be. A true artist dives deep into his muse and returns to the surface with something that practically wiggles out of his hand - something brave, something enchanting and, most significantly, something unique.
Posing in "The 1969 Slim Jean Fit" takes the derring-do out of that for me.
In the print ad, the brothers are seen cavorting with and without their instruments. They're super-happy about stuff, stuff that appears to include being brothers and having a white, limbo-lit studio in which to express this with their arms. They seem to be absolutely on nitrous about being dressed in form-fitting clothes that add up to essentially the very same outfit.
I don't know if the Avetts' mother dressed them alike when they were little, but I bet they were embarrassed about it if she did.
My musician friends who've talked about the ad can be divided into two groups: those who are distracted by the brothers' presence in Gap commercials and those who are completely, utterly okay with it and confused that the subject would even come up. The former group, nearly to the person, is late 40s and above. The latter is under 40 all the way, down into college age.
There's a beautiful irony to this. Or at least a squirrelly side reality. In 1969, the Gap started as a San Francisco store that concentrated on selling Levis in multiple sizes. It targeted the generation gap, from whence came the name.
Everyone likes to be on the ground floor of a trend. The Gap. You. Me. And here's the heart of my chagrin. It's a petty thing to reveal. I dislike the Gap ad because it reminds me that everyone knows about the Avetts' unique, fresh music - not just me and a few of my discriminating friends. The Avetts are popular, and they should be. I'd be happier for them, I just know it, if they didn't look so doggone good in cords.