Walt Whitman in a pair of Levi’s

Even in a Levi’s commercial Walt Whitman is a genius. Normally I don’t watch commercials. I end up fast forwarding through all that noise. But last night I was in the kitchen when this Levi’s commercial came on. I was stunned to hear the insistent words of Walt Whitman calling from the other room.

It sounds stupid, but this Levi’s commercial was a transcendent moment for me. I feel Whitman’s poetry deeply. To me it represents the best of what humans can be and what these United States can be. It may be a commercial to sell jeans, but frankly I think the montage in the commercial actually catches the lust and energy, and the youth and promise in Whitman’s poetry. I don’t care if it was created to sell, sell, sell. We could use more Whitman in popular culture.

Hearing “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” performed in this commercial sent me to iTunes to try and find a recording of Whitman’s poetry. In general I have very little interest in audio books, but I do like some spoken word recordings. Unfortunately, most of the Whitman available on iTunes is truly abysmal. I could read his poems better than the people who made these recordings. Then I came across this fabulous 1957 recording. As I sampled the tracks I realized that the “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” on this recording is the same as the Levis commercial. What a happy discovery. Thanks Levi’s.

And it turns out there is another one, that, if we are to believe the Interwebs, is actually the voice of Whitman on an old wax cylinder.

4 thoughts on “Walt Whitman in a pair of Levi’s

  1. tuulenhaiven November 9, 2009 / 6:37 pm

    I've seen this, and in spite of myself I've kind of liked it as a commercial. It definitely inspired me to check out more Walt Whitman, as I've read very little of his work. Thanks for the background info. :)


  2. Jenny November 10, 2009 / 9:49 am

    I've heard that supposed recording of Walt Whitman – apparently they don't know if it's real. I figure, if the experts don't call it as a fake, we can go ahead and believe in it because that's more fun. (Though I'm not a Whitman fan myself.)


  3. Art November 10, 2009 / 11:29 am

    Huh, who would've thought? I've heard the second recording before, and been told it's Whitman's real voice. So nice to hear poetry spoken like that.

    Better than the average commercial at any rate.


  4. Thomas November 10, 2009 / 8:20 pm

    tuulenhaiven: I know what you mean about liking it in spite of yourself.

    Jenny: Good info, thanks.

    Art: Definitely better than your average commercial.


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