Commentary

Tylenol's Dad-Rock Paean Shortchanges Its Subjects

My most indispensible body parts are my hands and fingers. Granted, a quick run through the ol’ anatomy smartbook suggests that perhaps I’d cease to exist without my heart or brain (such as it is), but I wouldn’t want to live without my hands and fingers. I type. I play music. Take those two things away from me and I’m somebody else. I like me, dammit. I have it on good authority that as many as four other people do as well.

So I entered my viewing of “What Moves Me,” a clip that purports to depict the effect that arthritis has on the joints and psyches of working musicians, with buckets of empathy in tow. Produced by the New York Times’ T Brand Studio on behalf of Tylenol 8 Hr Arthritis Pain (and hosted by the Times), the video assembles 13 arthritis-afflicted musicians (“who never played together,” the site copy notes just a bit too proudly) and chronicles their thoughts as they rehearse and record a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s goth anthem “Don’t Stop.”

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These are my people. This is my tribe (or it would be if I were roughly 7,200 percent more talented). And given the way the concept aligns tightly with my second most intense aging-related fear (the first being “not living long enough to experience intense aging-related fear”), I was hoping for some kind of road map of what lies ahead for anyone who relies on his or her hands or knees or back or wrists. Here’s how it starts, here’s how it affects your day-to-day existence, here’s what this fine product in the little red box does to ameliorate the symptoms, etc.

All I got were happy rainbow hugs and moonbeam unicorns. The presentation of arthritis pain in “What Moves Me” is so glib and saccharine as to characterize the condition as a mere nuisance, as opposed to a constant hammering discomfort. There’s nothing feel-good about arthritis, yet the clip glosses over the pain and focuses on shiny happy musicians and their pet names for their instruments. We hear more about Mabel (Bryan the Guitar Guy’s axe) and Bella (Susan the Accordion Lady’s squeeze box) than we do about, you know, arthritis.

Clearly Tylenol believes an inspiration-first approach is the way to go here, which is fine. So why not attempt to personalize the musicians’ narratives by surveying who they were before arthritis hit and who they are now that they’ve achieved enough of a triumph over the symptoms that they can perform without distress? In theory, that stands to be more inspiring than Upright Bass Guy Joe rhapsodizing about his grandson picking up the instrument. Whoa, there’s a legacy.

Meanwhile, your math may vary, but 13 musicians spent two days in the studio recording the song. That should have produced, what, at least 20 hours worth of potential footage, right? But “What Moves Me” clocks in at 2:52, with the credits starting to roll at the 2:40 mark. We don’t see the musicians interacting or discussing their personal/professional lives or lounging between takes. It’s a few testimonials, a few choppy cuts to the glossily shot final performance and nothing more.

“What Moves Me” even muffs the small stuff. The site doesn’t offer footage of a full performance of the song - or if it does, I can’t locate it (you can, however, listen all the way through, an experience which suggests a perfectly professional wedding band kicking in to pre-dessert overdrive). The accompanying graphics and verbiage (“can’t stop this groove,” “home is where the rhythm is,” “can arthritis Rock & Roll? We had two days to find out”), while tonally inconsistent with the nihilistic bent of “Don’t Stop,” achieve a profound level of dad-rock lameness. I also enjoyed the shout-out to FDA regulators embedded in the explanatory copy (“[The musicians] have tapped a seemingly endless reserve of commitment and dedication — and sought the advice of health care professionals — to play past the pain and keep their passion for music alive.” - itals mine).

You know how it works: The harder you try to inspire, the more likely you’ll come up short. And so it is with “What Moves Me.” By focusing on a cheery, cheesy destination rather than the journey that preceded arrival, the video offers nothing in the way of interest or insight. It plays less like a living entity than it does a waiting-room pamphlet.
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