Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Other People's Music

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?


  1. My favorite supermarket soundtrack is a place that plays a lot of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. I regularly find people dancing in the aisles.

  2. Today I was on hold with AT&T to the sound track of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album. Definitely better than the muzak version of Iko Iko or whatever it is they usually/used to play.

  3. Harriet, I think good music follows you wherever you go. I was in the dry cleaner yesterday and Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" was on the radio. Even the simplest errands can turn ugly when '80s dance hits come into play.

  4. At my child's first middle school band concert, they played a Queen medley, and my husband and I were dismayed that the songs of our youth were now grist for the beginner's mill. So I wasn't properly sympathetic when the music of her middle school youth--a band called My Chemical Romance--became grist for the High School marching band this year. It's happening quicker.

  5. It's funny that you mention Kohl's, because that's where I frequently hear the most incongruous music - Big Star, The Ramones, even The Slits on one recent visit.

  6. This was a musical surprise in a "likely" place..Pete Seeger's 90th B'Day
    but I thought I'd share
    the coolest part was on the PBS broadcast you could see a very "senior" member of the chorus smiling,swaying,eyes closed,drinking it in...
    Other people's music connects us all.

  7. I was buying strawberries today at Jewel and listening to ... Age of Aquarius~ which I completely dug.. On the flipside: My wish for everyone: As you're having your crown tediously fitted and installed at the dentist that you are not forced to listen to "Nights In White Satin".

    ... it was just creepy.

  8. Thanks, Jeanne, Lass, Julie, Anon.--great stuff.