• 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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