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When Avant-Garde Becomes Garde
By Ed Driscoll · April 10, 2007 11:14 AM · All You Need Is Ears · Bobos In Paradise · The New Puritans

James Lileks posts photos of one the great moments of fifties swank, the original automobile compact disc player. It probably skipped and popped a whole lot more than the real CD players of today, but the original gets bonus points for style and creative, if impractical thinking:

It’s the Highway Hi-Fi. It’s a record player for your car. I repeat: a record player for your car. More details can be found here. (Warning: BYO Paragraph Breaks.) Also here. Ah, but what music would you play on such a miraculous device? Well: this would be an excellent time to try out our new music-playing widget, and provide the following tune for your driving pleasure. It's a selection from a record provided to Kresge stores: this is what they played over the speakers in the ceiling.

It makes me feel six years old again. There's not a day I hear 60s and 70s pop in the grocery store, and wish they'd bring this stuff back. Heck, half the shoppers would think it was ironic, which would make it all okay.
Having spent my teen years toiling in the family retail store, where my father insisted on Easy-Listening Muzak over the frequent protestations of his rock & roll crazed son, I find it more than a little ironic that today’s Muzak is…rock & roll.

But for unintential irony, it's hard to beat the notion that singers like Madonna, and Sheryl Crow with her cover of Yusuf Islam’s “The First Cut (of the Palestinian suicide bomber) Is The Deepest” think of themselves as épatering les bourgeois when their music is now fit to be non-offensive background tunes. Here’s a tip: when your songs are being played on the Muzak speakers by the pool and cabanas of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino, you’re no longer avant-garde. You’re officially the garde.

Similarly, I’m old enough to remember when rock musicians actually were edgy and dangerous, and not entirely play acting at it. Now they’re puritanical nags, ordering their listeners to cut down on CO2 emissions, even as they organize tours around private jets, limousines, and tractor-trailers full of HiWatt amps, PA systems and more stage rigging than any Broadway play. (And buttering up to the husband of a woman they once, briefly, reviled.)

Maybe stores should return to the Muzak of the past. It can’t contain any more hidden irony than today’s rockers.



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