March 7, 2011

Great music at Starbucks

If you don't normally go, it's worth stopping by sometime soon. For about the past week, Starbucks has finally caved in and dumped the sappy singer-songwriter and emotionally empty conceptual jazz music that's usually on, and started playing music you can sympathize with and just can't help but sing along to. It's hip, educated white folks music from 1979 to 1985, back when that demographic group was more about having fun than preening about Stuff White People Like.

I can't remember everyone who's shown up so far. Talking Heads, Pretenders, Echo and the Bunnymen, Cocteau Twins (for the This Mortal Coil project, and I think one of their own too), Depeche Mode, U2, The Smiths, The Cure, XTC, Roxy Music, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Clash, Yazoo, Eurythmics, Soft Cell, Simple Minds, Genesis... and lots more.

Even better, they aren't just repeating one song by the group over and over -- although I wouldn't mind grooving along to "Stop Your Sobbing" every time I dropped in. About half of those bands have played two songs so far.

It would be a real treat to hear more from the girl groups... like "Our Lips Are Sealed," "Robert De Niro's Waiting," and The Bangles' cover of "September Gurls." In general it's males who make and obsess over music, so when there's a good number of all-girl groups, that's a real treasure. The culture must have been pretty wild for that to have happened.

It really does make a difference if you get to hear your favorite music somewhere outside your house or car, where it feels like it's part of something larger than your own little life. Human beings are not adapted to the internet, so online forums cannot at all substitute for hanging out at a record store listening and talking to people, or dancing with a club full of kids. Even hearing it while reading in Starbucks or walking the aisles of the supermarket gives it a broader presence and makes you temporarily lose that "under siege" mentality you feel when silly or annoying music is on.

The only thing that's tempted me into subscribing to cable TV is one of those spin-offs of either MTV or VH1 that I saw when I visited home for Christmas. (VH1 Classic, I think.) We are aware of the invisibility of any internet discussion to the majority of internet users, so when you see an online discussion about a favorite topic of yours, you don't think to yourself that lots of people are also into it -- could just be some niche thing, or an echo chamber. Turning on cable TV, however, and seeing music videos by good performers convinces you that enough people have resisted trivial music that this one is surviving in the market for TV channels.

It will never be as exciting as it used to be, but all of these little sanctuaries are keeping alive some sense of community among music-lovers, against the atomized dorks downloading thug rap or indie junk on iTunes.


  1. Since you write a lot about cycles of violence affect people, I think you might be interested in part of Azar Gat's "War and Human Civilization". He talks about how it was useful for rulers to have populations docile and subservient, but this had the downside of making them too pacified for war and requiring the reliance on mercenaries (who were prone to seizing power themselves). Since it's a long book, you might just want to read part 2, "Agriculture, Civilization and War". Of course, it discusses how pastoralists differed from sedentary agrarian peasants.

  2. I am shocked at the number of bands that sound exactly like Blink 182 did when I was a kid, whiny pop-punk. There seems to be an endless demand for this.

  3. my local starbucks usually plays whatever crappy music is on the manager's ipod. I've only heard one good song from it (white wedding). only occasionally do they play a set track, and then it's like 15-20 songs. comment it to your starbucks girl and see what she says?


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