I admit to a low tolerance for other people’s music, which is why I bring an iPod and earbuds with me to the local coffeehouse. Shutting myself off in my own aural world probably violates the social contract of the coffeehouse, but it beats listening to their soundtrack, which leans too heavily on breathy girl neo-folk singers for my tastes.
But every once in a while you can find a gem among the music that’s forced on you in public places. One of the local supermarkets, for example, plays a not-awful ‘70s AOR mix; hearing something like Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” makes even comparison-pricing wheat bread fun. The song is good, but what I really appreciate is coming upon it in a supermarket, one of the least soulful environments known to man.
Another case: Not long ago, shopping for gym shoes for my 8-year-old boy in one of a series of depressing big-box stores, I heard a song that sounded familiar. It took me a minute to figure out what it was, because it had been transformed into a bit of syrupy instrumental elevator music, but then it came to me. It was the Replacement’s “Skyway,” a wonderful little song that I hadn’t heard or thought of in a long time. I don’t know if I’m entirely happy to have my college-rock heroes reduced to grist for the background music mill at Kohl’s, but hearing even a corrupted “Skyway” made that afternoon for me. For once, I was glad I had left the iPod at home. I suppose there are assertive technologies and protective technologies. And one of the functions of a protective technology (an iPod?) is to screen out all the noise made by everyone else's assertive technology. But maybe that function isn't without costs.
Any other stories of musical surprises in unlikely places?