Listen to the Muzak

By Peter Gerstenzang

For many of us, food shopping has all the excitement, tension and drama of playing one of our most famous games. Unfortunately, that game is Yahtzee. Meaning, when you shop, nothing much happens. And it takes so long, when you’re done, you feel so old, you walk right past the beer and head straight for the Metamucil.

The music at the store has never helped either. It’s mostly bland instrumental versions of Golden Oldies. The peppiest thing being Lawrence Welk’s polka version of “Last Train To Clarksville”. But things have changed. Supermarket music now is infinitely better than the radio. Now, to some folks, that’s like saying a routine rectal exam is better than a colonoscopy. But, if you think about it, the difference is huge. And, if you thought that? What’s wrong with you?

Muzak, once responsible for tunes that so zonked you out, you bought 15 cans of waxed beans, has rebranded. That stodgy company is now hip. And the music being played! Last week, while shopping, I heard “Girlfriend Is Better” by The Talking Heads, “What Difference Does It Make?”, by The Smiths and Marshall Crenshaw’s “Cynical Girl”. I was so jazzed, I started dancing with an elderly woman in the bran section. It was great. Until she threw her back out and the ambulance came.

What changed?

In 2011, Mood Media bought Muzak and figured it was time for an upgrade. Now, supermarkets, drug stores and boutiques can order music that will encourage their customers to shop. As opposed to begging to be put into a medically-induced coma. Mood Media has bought up tons of classic rock, alternative and R&B. You know, stuff actually recorded after The Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Now cafes and book stores are playing The Clash. Not Kenny G.’s rendition of “The Age Of Aquarius”. What a relief!

This public music is so great now, it might even help the economy. You know, in addition to the Republicans raising the minimum wage. So working families don’t have to eat Ramen Noodles three times a day.

See, a store’s atmosphere plays a big part in how long you stay. Atmosphere includes music. And if the store is playing “The Best Of Manheim Steamroller” (I realize that title is an oxymoron), you might be tempted to grab a few things quickly and split. But if the speakers are playing, “Radio Free Europe” by REM, or “Marie” by Randy Newman, you might stay longer and buy more stuff. And poof, the deficit will be fixed!

So, finally, there’s a trend I can fully embrace. I can go shopping and hear The Pretenders. Instead of the long version of Maureen McGovern’s “The Morning After” (okay, any version is the long one). My only complaint? Nobody seems to be playing rap. But, it’s early yet. One day I’ll be in Walgreen’s and hear Ice Cube’s “Dead Homiez”. Then I’ll know, with absolute certainty, that the revolution has finally been won.