Hungry and desperate for a restroom, I left Decibel Audio in Chicago's formerly yipster Wicker Park neighborhood in search of something tangible to eat. No Earwax, Sultan's seemed too far, so I settled on Filter II.
A very believable recreation and approximation of the original, Filter II no longer attracts punks and tattooed art students but primarily early-20-somethings with their laptops working on web design or writing assignments.
I had gotten my sandwich and was enjoying the oppressive silence. The space has the precise acoustics of a concert hall, allowing each utterance at the register be heard across the room, magnified by the lack of composed sound.
Like a library or a study hall, the space had taken on a mood; I both yearned for and regretted the inevitability of the disturbance of that mood with some sort of music or another.
And then it happened.
Coffee shops are notorious for attracted young hip kids with hundreds of gigs of il/legally downloaded music. If I don't always agree with their choices, I can at least respect them.
But at Filter II one particular cold November day, the serene focus of silence was disturbed by You Shook Me All Night Long, which according to the Youtube, the source of all my wonder and joy, is "a song about a night with a beautiful women."
I don't know what troubles me more, the fact that it came on or the fact that no one else was looking around saying "What is this, Starbucks?"
Of the myriad reasons why I never want to hear AC/DC outside of White Sox games is this: its essence is high-octane, testosterone-laden, rock and/or roll, and it deserves to be loud enough to induce a bowel movement.
As it was at Filter II, it was emasculated by its relegation to the background. And it was this that I found distracting and disturbing.
[Side note: Back in Black was one of the first four CDs I ever got through some mail order deal - was it BMG first? - along with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Appetite for Destruction, and Master of Puppets.]
Next came that song that (MC) Hammer sampled for Can't Touch This, Super something-something.
Yeah, let's party right? Woo! [Answer: No party. Study.]
The conflict is this: employees want to play music that they like, to take the edge of their over-caffeinated ennui, while customers want the music to wallpaper their environment like the dilapidated furniture and chalk-board menus.
The music serves to absorb all those ambient noises so we are not constantly distracted by people's loud typing [or, gasp, conversation!], but it shouldn't overstep its boundaries.
Pop music is composed - nay, engineered - to be catchy, what with its hooks and choruses and would better suit an establishment equally as mainstream.
Ultimately, it comes down to consistency: if you're still somewhat counterculture, reflect that in your music.
This TED talk by Joseph Pine will explain the rest.
Filed under: bullshit