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Monday, July 12, 2004

The Shame of Music

Have you ever been sitting somewhere when the song on the Muzak is so unbelievably awful that you are actually embarrassed to inhabit the same room as some hit from Hell’s Top 40? The song is so bad that you are afraid to make eye contact with other people around you for fear that they will think you somehow requested this bit of music. You go back to whatever it is you are doing and sweat out the second chorus hoping nobody you know walks in and sees you here.

Of course you don’t ever feel this way because all of you are too normal and aren’t plagued by silly demons that still haunt you from childhood. I was perhaps eleven years old when my trauma occurred. I thought that I was home alone when I was caught red-handed playing I’m Living in Shame (Lord, the irony) by Dianna Ross and the Supremes. It was Richard Mejia, a friend of my older brother. “All the records you have around here and you’re playing I’m Living in Shame?” I fumbled around with a lame explanation, but Richard walked off laughing. For the first time someone had pointed out that what I was listening to wasn’t cool.

To this day I’m terrified that Richard Mejia will walk into my coffee shop and ask, “You ASKED them to play Billy Jean?” He won’t care that the shop has a music system that is wrapped up in complicated copyright laws and licensing agreements. My mere presence in the shop proves that I am either acquiescing to the song or that I actually love it. He won’t care that my musical tastes have matured over the years. His mocking laughter will drown out my appeal that I now play classical music at home on the piano. All that will matter is that I was sitting in a public place listening to fucking Billy Jean. Life is cruel.

Rock music has a lot to do with the tauntings of the Richard Mejias of the world. The “My music is cooler than your music” school of thinking, made famous by the geeks in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, has defined the way we look at rock and roll.

It has been a long time since I last bought anything in the rock genre—cool or otherwise. I gave up on rock for the most part. I have ventured into other areas of music where being cool isn’t so necessary.

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