O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?/My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends!/Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends./O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?"Janis Joplin wrote and recorded the above lyrics in 1970, shortly before her body, beaten and abused by too much drugs, drink and a hard, bluesy life, finally gave up. The song was released in 1971, posthumously, on the album Pearl (highly recommended if you don't have it).
The song is recorded a capella, as if to accentuate the loneliness she was experiencing at this dark hour, so near to her own mortality. The only accompaniment is her own hand clapping. It's a tough life singing the blues, and Joplin lived it tougher than most. Few accolades and even fewer rewards. Maybe enough money to live on and then, if you're lucky enough to die young, you get to be a legend.
The song goes on, of course: if you won't get me a Merc, perhaps you could spare a colour TV? If not a TV, how about a night on the town? It's a paean for all blues singers: we won't be rich, but maybe we can get enough booze to ease the pain.
But think about this: at the time Joplin wrote the song, she drove a Porsche. A 1965 Cabriolet with a custom psychedelic paint job. Reading it that way, it's just a whinge from a millionaire pop star who's found that her custom Porsche doesn't set her apart from the hangers-on around her, who also drive Porsches. A Merc might make all the difference.
I've been thinking about this lately in the context of the two big corporate collapses of recent times: HIH and One.Tel. When HIH went down, there were seemingly endless parades on news and current affairs shows of down-on-their-luck battlers whose livelihoods had depended on their insurance payouts, and who were now crushed and beaten, praying for a government bailout.
The peak of it came when A Current Affair snuck a camera into the home of one of the HIH honchos and secretly videotaped the materialistic excesses within: formal and informal dining rooms, two kitchens, a disco, two pools and a teppan-yaki bar. It looked a pretty swish place, actually, and he was only asking $7.5 million for it. Bargain.
Anyway, the kicker for the segment was sitting a bunch of battlers down in front of the TV and showing them the video, while Mike Munro asked stupid questions like "does your dilapidated shack with no roof or indoor plumbing have a teppan-yaki bar?" Duh Mike, no it doesn't, but thanks for the humiliation anyway.
Then there was One.Tel. I'm not with One.Tel personally, but I have many friends who are, including several employees of the company, and they have indeed been telling me all about it. The employees have been given a lifeline in the past few days, with some redundancy payouts guaranteed and one of the directors offering to return his $6.8 million performance bonus - fair enough, frankly, and what about the other one? The customers have their own problems, with tricky contracts to navigate their ways out of. It will get ugly.
Of course, it took the news folks a couple of days to cotton on that the victims of One.Tel's excesses were its customers and employees. Very quickly off the mark, they focused on its financial backers, Jamie Packer and Lachlan Murdoch. The two were said to be "profoundly upset" by the demise of the company, but the only file image that could be located was the two of them at some big corporate function, suited up and gleeful. They seemed to be saying "$990 million? That'll take weeks to recoup!" Thankfully, the poor weather of the following few days afforded some more useful, dour-looking images of Packer and Murdoch, fils et fils, but the damage had been done in terms of sympathy generation.
I wanted to see A Current Affair sneak a camera into the home of Jodee Rich or Brad Keeling, the One.Tel directors who so thoroughly deserved those performance bonuses last year; the guys who pocketed Packer and Murdoch's money for themselves (great way to pick enemies, by the way). Just get the camera in and take a stickybeak around at the corporate excesses - there must be some, surely. Then, sit Packer and Murdoch down in a room and make them watch the video. Give them a box of tissues. Maybe get their dads in as well - to emphasise that it's real families getting hurt here.
I can just picture it now: "What, only one teppan-yaki bar?"
Matthew JC. Powell loves a good teppan-yaki. Throw eggs and prawn heads at email@example.com