Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Starbucks Music

[In a recent podcast on Slate, Jody Rosen asked: “Starbucks Music--Why do wimpy indie balladeers sound good with a tall latte?” I’ve added scare quotation marks to snippets from the podcast discussion. This response was originally posted on the Slate discussion board, The Fray.]

“Tyranny of good taste” in Starbucks’ albums!? “Good taste!” Oh my god! What’s this world coming to? And to underline the underlying worries in their review of the Starbucks’ music style (whatever that turns out to be is never made entirely clear in this podcast), Rosen and friend threaten listeners with the revival of Bubblegum music. This sounds very bad to me, but being almost 70 years old I haven’t the slightest idea what “Bubblegum music" might be. Something by “The Bazooka’s”? I accept that whatever it is it would probably really screw up the needle on my turntable.

Turntable! Yeah, right. So many of the “straight down the center” choices on Starbucks CDs are indeed old favorites of old guys, like me. Only now this Best Of stuff is on CD or played through the endless tape of digital radio. Great. If I can afford to pay the outlandish prices Starbucks charges for a cup of coffee, I can afford to finally cover some of the best I have on tape and vinyl by buying a shiny CD from them. But I’m going on record here: one more price increase on that cup of Joe and I’m outta there.

Generations

Just about every cultural commentator I read or listen to these days slips into (if I may coin an ugly term) “generationalese.” Whether they slice and dice people by decades or date them by music styles or categories, little chunks of time often stand-in for true analysis for what’s being heard, seen or read. Is this valid?

I don’t know. Here’s my shot at it.

Everyone is deserving to live in a time context of their own making. Take Starbucks music. I tend to give it an OK, or at least a pass, because the vocalists are generally respectful in regard to the lyrics they are singing. Is this just the yearnings of an old guy (me) looking for, hoping for, dreaming of a more coherent, understandable world? When rap, or the next new thing branching off of rap, comes on whatever box I’m listening to it seems to provide word sounds that are so self-consciously stylized and over produced that these musicians might as well be playing a Beatles song backward in an echo chamber. Almost always without success, I heave mightily to find content and meaning in the repetitious rhymes that march to an incessant, rarely innovative, beat.

Rap-ola does move young people. I look around and see plenty of head-bobbing. I tap my toe, you head-bob, and so it goes. I can’t think clearly when my brain case is physically pistoning. But that’s just me.

So the smooth singers of contemporary ditties and standards from the past may not have much in the way of “edge” or “danger” or be “out there” and "in your face," but they do honor a lyric, enunciate and give the listener a chance to Think-- about the poetry in the song or Sink into a reverie. Hey, when you’re old and you’re angry about Bush and the insanity of war, you Think and Sink a lot. Rap and its progeny just doesn’t seem to speak to issues of real concern, or if/when it does: I’m listening but it’s just not communicating.

So, how’s that for “generationalese.”?

I know, I know, this generational spiel makes me officially a part of the sometimes despised, always ignored, “they.” That’s “they,” as in “they” just don’t understand me. I know the line and the type well. “They” just didn’t understand me either back in the fifties when I was tuning into Al Benson on WGES-AM in Chicago, listening to Muddy Waters and paying a thin dime for a cup of Joe.

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