Number 73 / December 1989:
TROUBLE BREWING.... Flat beer sales in 1988 have led to even more suds sponsorship of rock & roll in 1989, as brewers try to boost profits by selling more to younger drinkers.
But while the beer companies correctly point out that would-be sponsorees are camped at their doorstep, there's also a backlash in progress. Tom Petty, who's had tours sponsored by Tecate, says he'll never do it again. "It's not worth it," Petty told David Hinckley of the New York Daily News. "How can the fan take your next song seriously if your last one sold beer?" Kool and the Gang ended a four year association with Schlitz due to a concern over the impact on teenagers and Cameo's Larry Blackmon has turned down beer sponsorship for the same reason. Bob Seger has rejected millions from Coors, which named one of its brews after his Silver Bullet Band.
But the revolt isn't limited to musicians. One writer lowered Steve Winwood's album in the USA Today 1988 year-end poll simply because the singer made Michelob commercials. A coalition of groups ranging from government agencies to anti-drug organizations protested the Miller-sponsored Who shows in Texas in September, saying those concerts encouraged underage drinking. One of the participating groups, Doctors Ought to Care, sells T-shirts emblazoned "Killer Lite"; Miller has unsuccessfully sued them, claiming trademark infringement and demanding that all money from the shirts be turned over to them.
"Killer Lite" can be all too appropriate. Mike Rutherford of Michelob's Genesis claims defensively, "We're not giving kids any wild ideas," but in 1987 there were 3,259 American teenagers killed in alcohol-related auto accidents. The Broken Cord, Michael Dorris's book on F.A.S. (fetal alcohol syndrome), proves that there is no safe amount of alcohol a pregnant woman can drink. If she drinks even a few cans of beer, her child may be born mentally or physically retarded beyond repair.
Most of us accept beer sponsorship because it seems to be bringing us a lot of music, from superstars like the Who and the Rolling Stones to bluesmen such as Johnny Copeland and Lonnie Brooks. But as breweries take over live music, they're allowed to pursue profits at the expense of our national health and given a degree of control over the music that ought to disturb any rock & roll fan. Connie Woolpert, manager of Miller's "young adult program," summed it up for David Hinckley: "We wouldn't sponsor the Beastie Boys, but we don't watch what our acts play. Besides displaying our banner, they may mention us from the stage. If they drink on stage, it should be ours. We also have interview training."