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MTV Gets the Urge

8:00 PM -- First the Beatles' catalogue got licensed for car commercials, now this: MTV has released plans for its new digital music service, which will be launched in cooperation with Microsoft using its new Windows Media Player. Offering more than 2 million songs for download, the service will not be compatible with iPods. And it will be called "Urge."

For those of us who came of age in the 1970s, this is a small bit of sacrilege. "Urge," of course, is the name of the van that David Ray "Divine Right" Davenport pilots in Divine Right's Trip, Gurney Norman's classic countercultural novel. Originally published in the margins of The Whole Earth Catalogue, Divine Right's Trip features "the acid-addled cousin of Huck Finn and Stephan Dedalus," as one scholar describes him, on an epic drive through the Appalachians, a voyage of self-discovery part Joseph Campbell hero-journey and part Merry Pranksters headtrip.

For teenagers like me, growing up in the cultural wasteland of Nixon's America, D.R. offered evidence that with enough mental enhancers and a few tanks of buck-a-gallon gas, you could escape the constraints of school, family, and society. I had a friend who drove a Datsun 240Z, the coolest sportscar of its time. His plates read "Urge II."

The branding of Urge doesn't seem too bad, though, when you look closely at the origins of Norman's novel. Turns out he and Whole Earth Catalogue publisher Stewart Brand, a countercultural hero himself, hatched a scheme to run an episodic story throughout the catalogue, a novel in which the products on sale in the catalogue would figure prominently. So Brand not only launched the pioneering online community The Well -- he invented Brand placement, too!

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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