Sunday, December 5, 2010

Background Music

The other night I was in Rosslyn, VA, the kind of urban area the term "concrete canyons" was created for, to see some silent movies. Before the show I went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The food was all right but they had the depressing screeching of Celine Dion coming out of the speakers as background music. It got me thinking that this bathetic crap has come to represent "adult music" in the minds of most people. You rarely hear fun older music like Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee or Nancy Wilson in such places any more.  I left the restaurant and I still had about 90 minutes before the show started, so I walked across the street to a Starbucks to get some coffee. As soon I got in there, guess what I heard playing. Yep, Ella. Followed in succession by Msses. Lee and Wilson with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and Louis Armstrong after that.

I know people usually grumble about Starbucks as some evil store chain that sells way-overpriced coffee.  I won't comment on the coffee but it's nice to run into a place where your ears aren't assaulted by bad, boring music the second you walk in. I don't know how the music for this particular store is selected but whoever does it has some taste. Similarly there's an Au Bon Pain sandwich shop near my work and every time I go in there, I'm usually hearing the likes of Dinah Washington, Chet Baker and Diana Krall.  It always seems to be these ubiquitous and impersonal like franchise places where you can eat in the company of good music whereas fancier restaurants often play the sort of music that is so soppy and annoying you eat as fast as you can so you can leave and get away from it. Maybe that's the point.

On a completely unrelated note today I started taking advantage of the On Demand section of my digital cable service and watched a episode of the much ballyhooed show Mad Men for the first time. Just going by one episode I don't see what the big deal is about this show. An advertising executive suffering through existential despair? People openly smoking in their offices and on trains?  There is little here that you couldn't see in spades on any Hollywood movie made before 1967.  The parts where the show says "Look  how dumb those people were back then" by having the cast snickering at the Volkswagen and Lady Chatterley's Lover were really predictable. The only interesting bit was the hint that the lead character is leading some kind of double life.  Hopefully it won't turn out to be a storyline like the Flitcraft anecdote in the book version of The Maltese Falcon where a man runs away from his job and family to settle down in another city with a very similar wife, house and job to what he originally had.
     Everyone on this show looks so handsome and impeccably coiffed and clothed for the period there is a sense of too-perfect unreality to it.  By contrast I saw an old Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode  from 1962 last night that starred Tony Randall as an adman with a severe drinking problem and that felt real. The people in it, especially Randall wearing his most hangdog expression and a heavy, short-haired Jayne Mansfield, looked like they were part of a real world. When you actually lived through an era and see a TV show trying to do a recreation of it, the bullshit parts stick out like sore thumbs.

1 comment:

Serge said...

This just proves that restaurant owners need to be a bit more careful when choosing the songs they play in their store. They might not know it but the songs they play might actually be driving away their customers so they need to choose songs or tunes wisely.