Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm a Bleedin' Volcano: A Meditation On the Social Uses of Music

Like many Americans these days, I work in a cubicle farm. It's a nicer cubicle farm than most, I daresay, having experienced durance vile in other such hells. The pods themselves are of nice quality, and since I'm a senior designer I have some pretty damned nice gear which is updated regularly, both PC and Mac. I truly can't complain. I'm very happy there.

I'm not going to say what company treats its employees with such computorial lavishness -- it's a well-learned lesson that employers don't like seeing their names up on The Internets in ways that they can't control. But I've dropped enough hints here and there in the Jingosphere (and I didn't coin that phrase!) that a person savvy in the industries that encircle Washington's exurbs will be able to dope it out. Not defense contracting (shudder!), not WorldCom or any other telco's. That pretty much gives it away right there. Hey, oh well.

Another major hint is that this is the kind of company that pipes music everywhere. It was worse some years ago when the place hired a backslapping know-nothing dolt from the radio industry to shore up its sagging fortunes in the wake of the dot-com bust. When the dolt in question took the reins, we began hearing music all over the place, which of course in the dark days of 2002 was exactly what the doctor ordered for employee morale. My cube was situated such that I could just barely make out what was being played over the cafeteria intercom, and I became acutely irritated by it: I knew that Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up the Sun" would be played at 10:46, 11:22, 12:13, 1:07 and so on day after day after day. I have an unalloyed detestation for that song that even poor Kevin Gilbert couldn't begin to comprehend.

The music extended into that Holy of Holies the bathroom, and this was where I drew the line. As something of an amateur musician I have a powerfully intimate relationship with music, and I will not tolerate an assault with crappy pop while Doing That. Several times during the reign of the Backslapping Dolt, I crept into the mens' room with a tall chair and turned the volume off on the ceiling speaker, only to find it turned back up again soon after. I wondered what kind of Torquemada would order regular checks to ensure the bathroom speakers were emitting the regulation volume of commercial poot, and failed to encompass the degree of evil such an order would take.

So I've declared a truce with the bathroom Muzak. Most of the time I can ignore it, and I've learned not to let it bother me when Carlos Santana's latest steaming pile of crap competes with my own.

All of which helps to explain the helpless giggles to which I was reduced this morning. As I meditatively discharged my morning duty, my attention was caught by the Rolling Stones' "She's So Cold" trickling quietly out of my tinny little tormentor.

I know I've given them some grief in the past, but on the whole I feel pretty positively toward the Stones, and "She's So Cold" is a fine little rocker. Great drumming, which is never surprising coming from Charlie Watts. Funny lyric, delivered with fabulous Jagger camp. Fantastic guitar interplay -- of course. It's more or less completely impossible not to tap a foot and nod a rhythmic head.

Which is what I found myself doing, midway through a morning growler.

Now, this is not what gave me such a gut-laff. No, it was the thought that followed that so reduced me.

The bathroom's a five-seater, and I pictured all four of the other seats occupied by my fellow meditators, each one also nodding his head and tapping his foot -- each completely unaware, of course, of the others on either side engaged in exactly the same quiet rockin', each with some variation of the scrunched-up Rock-n-Roll Face, each emitting those horrifying tile-reverberant noises we all studiously ignore in public bathrooms. I imagined a camera-shot slowly rising from the Particular to the Universal -- from the mildly absurd comedy taking place in one cubicle to an overhead shot of all five cubicles containing guys, seated, pants around ankles, nodding their heads and tapping their feet in perfect unison with each other, all totally oblivious of the ballet they were performing.

Now that is funny.

Who could pull that off? Buñuel, I think. Or an Almodóvar. Get me a camera.


Bobby Lightfoot said...

And now picture it with the dividers between the stalls gone.

Neil Shakespeare said...

"She's So Cold" is good, but maybe you can get your restroom programmers to go with "Takin' Care of Business". Be a cool dance-on-the-shit-on-your-pants choreography moment, however, in either case. What the hell. It'd be great with "Jingle Bells"!

Uncle Rameau said...

since Neil mentioned Randy Bachman, "Running Back to Saskatoon" came to mind...

of "Backfield in Motion"

Bill said...

Willie Nile says the Stones stole the song from him. There is some evidence which might support him: he opened for the Stones the year his first album, featuring a similar song, was released. Really off topic from your post, with its Allie McBeal-like imagery, but I can't hear the song now without thinking about poor old Willie Nile, the Bruce Springsteen of Buffalo.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

I dunno if it's an urban legend (not on snopes), but I recall hearing that Muzak(TM) programs its tunes to the date and time -- up-tempo numbers around 1:30 P.M. when the worker bees would be coming back from lunch logy, mellower moods for early Monday A.M. hangovers, etc.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

Anonymous said...

Your imagined scene reminds me of the one in The Full Monty where the guys are in line at the unemployment office, and start doing little dance movies out of habit when a song they dance to comes onto the muzak system. Of course, you've brought it a whole other level...

XTCfan said...

Christ, I'm just glad that the music wasn't "Beat It." That could have gotten messy.

qfxfeywh (what the sound man on a gay action movie yells before the cameras roll)

joebftsplk said...

thought i was jingoish until someone spliced a disrespectful ref to c santana into the last rap i must be only jingoic or maybe jingooid