The Death and Resurrection of Barbaric Music

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Somehow I
missed the death and the funeral. But apparently, smooth
jazz passed away in its sleep
over three years ago and it was
pronounced dead on the scene. Where was I? Says one critic on PopMatters:

I come to
bury smooth jazz, not to praise it. The evil that radio formats
do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their gimmicky
call letters. So let it be with smooth jazz.

In recent
months, the continual format shuffle that is inevitable in corporate-controlled
radio cast a shadow over a previously successful corner of the
"jazz" world. In February and March of 2008, "smooth
jazz" stations in New York and Washington, DC shifted formats
to rock, leaving two of the nation's largest radio markets free
of Kenny G, Chris Botti, Dave Koz, and Spyro Gyra.

Dentists
in the two most powerful cities in America are panicking.

The author
of the piece, Will Layman, offers up perhaps the best definition
ever of smooth jazz, outside of a technical explanation:

Smooth Jazz,
then, can be understood as an embrace of clean edges, a rejection
of the analog sensibility that sits at the root of all the great
American music, whether Delta blues, improvised jazz, or rebellious
rock u2018n' roll. Smooth Jazz sought to be pleasant and shining and
sweet and easy. Like soul music without the sex, like jazz without
a pulse of urgency, like rock without the essential roll, Smooth
Jazz was an answer without a question.

At one point
during this obituary, Layman even refers to smooth jazz as a “soprano
saxophone note held for 45 minutes.”

Smooth jazz
triggers a strange sense of nausea in me. It is one of two types
of music I can’t listen to for more than a few minutes without enduring
seasick-type swells running through me, bringing on an unsavory
headache. I’ve been in offices and hairstyling shops where this
lifeless format is blaring over the ceiling speakers, subjecting
unsuspecting listeners to acute melancholy and putting them into
a quasi-vegetative state. I was sure that my hometown, Detroit,
still had its smooth jazz station, so I checked, and it looks like
there’s still a pulse over
at the HD 98.7 FM
. We can’t seem to manufacture cars that you
want to buy, but we can deliver music to fall asleep to while driving
your Honda.

I have noted
that, typically, the only folks who like smooth jazz are those people
who never really cared about music in the first place. Smooth jazz
is a generic utterance coming from otherwise good instruments that
fills the dead air but doesn’t make its listeners think too hard
about the music – it’s passion, purpose, or message. If traditional
jazz is chicken soup for the soul, then smooth jazz is waterboarding
for the senses.

Now I count
myself as a mega-fan of jazz – everything from the early jazz
musicians and swing to the vocalists, modern innovators, and instrumentalists.
I occasionally enjoy a sooty, hole-in-the-wall jazz club with a
full docket of great, raw music. I especially love 50s and 60s Blue
Note
jazz. This book, Blue
Note: The Album Cover Art
, is one of my favorite books that
I bought about 20 years ago, shortly after it was published. Blue
Note cover art was almost as good as the music. Good jazz music
is an immensely personal experience while smooth jazz is a soulless
experience, akin to a saxophone in a perpetual coma.

The other format
that gives me vigorous nausea is Muzak, also called elevator or
piped music. My father, who had no interest in any kind of music
except Guy Lombardo on the New Year’s holiday, used to play that
stuff in the car just to penetrate the silence. When you are a child
or teenager making the long haul to the summer home Up North (that’s
what we call it here in Michigan) in Dad’s pickup truck, and you
are subjected to 5 straight hours of 1) driving under the
speed limit 2) Muzak, and 3) cigar smoking – cheap cigars – with
the windows up, you become a green-around-the-gills captive to a
situation you cannot alter because you are severely lacking in position
power. I remember hearing many of my favorite songs being tortured
at the hands of Muzak’s audio architects. I owe much of my current
resilience to surviving those satanic moments in Dad’s ’75 Chevy.

What’s
fitting is that Muzak was
founded during the Great Depression
by George Owen Squier, a
two-star General and graduate of West Point. At the time, some research
studies were executed, apparently, by Moe, Larry, and Curly, which
showed Muzak was a functional music that reduced workplace absenteeism
and early departures. Further studies revealed that Muzak spurred
cows to give more milk and chickens to lay more eggs. The World
War II workforce was wired for Muzak, and accordingly, as the stories
go, production skyrocketed. So that’s what happened to the Big Three
automakers in Detroit? They turned off the Muzak?

The great
novelist and essayist, Vladimir Nabokov, described
Muzak
as being “abominably offensive,” and in Smithsonian
magazine he referred to Muzak as “a stupefyingly bland, toxically
pervasive form of unregulated air pollution, about as calming as
the drone of a garbage compactor.”

Although the
term “muzak” came from a cross of “music” and “kodak,” it can’t
be overlooked that it sounds more like Prozac. According to a
2004 story in USA Today
, Muzak became a much more modern
company that was successfully fighting off its elevator music reputation
and re-branded its product as upbeat, edgy, and yeah, even hip.
Yet Muzak Holdings LLC filed
for bankruptcy protection
back in 2009, and it emerged
from bankruptcy
early in 2010. If Muzak was ever approaching
cadaver status, its carcass was sprinkled with groovy dust and it
began to churn out “the universal language.” While smooth jazz was
picking out its pallbearers, Muzak claims it was making headway
by inspiring a new generation of Muzak hipsters.

In the spring
of 2011, potential salvation appeared on the horizon when Mood Media
Corporation announced that it had acquired Muzak Holdings LLC. Perhaps
the old Muzak format will be entombed, or maybe it will galvanize
a whole new generation of devotees, inspiring young folks to channel
it into their iPods and Pandora radio streams. Perish the thought.
Can anything be more degenerate than a Muzak rendition of Michael
Jackson’s Bad, Usher's Yeah!, or, god forbid, the
Star Wars Imperial March?

August
27, 2011

Karen De Coster, CPA [send
her mail
] is
an accounting/finance professional in the healthcare industry and
a freelance writer/blogger. She writes about the medical establishment,
Big Pharma, Big Agra, the Corporate State, health totalitarianism,
lifestyle fascism, industrial-medical-pharmaceutical complex, and
essentially, anything that encroaches upon the freedom of her fellow
human beings. She is a proponent of ancestral health and the natural,
eco-ag farming community, and she opposes the Fed’s anti-food choice
totalitarianism. This is her LewRockwell.com
archive
and her Mises.org
archive
. Check out her
website
. Follow her on Twitter @karendecoster.

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