(Editor’s Note: This is Rachel’s first piece for her new column, “The Lady Doth Protest)
Music has the power to sprinkle a menial job with positivity and productivity. Moving in time to the rhythm, I can efficiently work my way through tasks while practicing my subtle shimmy (side note: I currently work at a small stationery and invitation store). This is all assuming, of course, that I like the songs playing – a faulty assumption to say the least. The scene in 40 Year Old Virgin where Paul Rudd goes insane after two years of listening to Michael McDonald on loop comes to mind. Perhaps Michael McDonald is an extreme example, but work has a funny way of ruining even the finest musicians through perverse repetition and association.
If the music we choose to listen to represents our distinct taste and perspective, then the lack of agency over the music that plays as we work symbolizes the greater lack of control we have over our lives. In contrast, our ability to mold our working environments, at least aurally, demonstrates that our input has value; in employment situations that tend to reinforce our servility and insignificance, it means a great deal to have the option of switching off a particularly annoying song (KT Turnstall – I’m talking to you!) instead of allowing its soul-splitting melody to eviscerate all that remains sacred. A head-bobbing jam, on the other hand, can help to alleviate the futility of counting and recounting all of the pennies in the register for the eighth time (a hearty thank you to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song from the It’s Complicated trailer).
My personal work/music situation resembles a twisted thought experiment akin to the trolley car: 100 CDs that I can choose from when I am alone in the store. The first forty-three CDs do not work, and the last ten are holiday music. Of the remaining forty-seven, at least four or five are mixes of Celtic songstresses. A little known fact about Celtic songstresses is that they suck. When my boss is in the store and I cannot change the music for fear of insulting her love of these wailing harpies, I can feel my ovaries exploding with a pop! pop! sound that is far superior to their so-called music. Only when I concentrate on my own insides rotting can I escape the face-clawing awfulness of those croaking devils. My productivity is at an all-time low when the Celts sing.
The majority of what remains is a mixture of Lilith Fair-worthy crooners – Sarah McLachlan, Melissa Etheridge, Tracy Chapman, Dido, Dixie Chicks, and so on. While this genre may not appeal to many Playtonic readers, I must admit that I have always nursed a soft spot for the Sarah McLachlans and Didos of the world. I figured Sarah reminding me that we are born innocent would cajole me to smile more convincingly in the face of a rude customer. Somewhere along the way, though, I became as intolerant of her as I am of the Celts. My associations of her songs as the soundtrack to my intellect atrophying have made it impossible to hear her music without wincing. Just as music can affect our attitudes about work, work can impact the way we hear certain musicians. Sadly, Sarah and her crew of feisty female crooners have made the transition from music to muzak.
So, one question remains: Do I attempt to replace the broken forty-three CDs with my own music? Because customers hear the music I cannot play Shimmy Shimmy Ya on repeat, but I was thinking of asking about musicians like Fleet Foxes or Bjork (actually, I felt conflicted about Bjork…Is Bjork too weird?). The last thing I want, though, is to hear Ragged Wood and imagine myself counting 180 folded ivory cards. Will I banish each CD I bring into a purgatory of frustration? But would I really prefer to hear the Celts? I figure if I bring in calm yet upbeat classics, avoiding the sadness filtering through the everlasting break-up songs of McLachlan and company, I can stave away the madness for another day. What do you think, Playtonics?
Any suggestions for work-time listening? They must be safe for work, obviously, and tolerable ad infinitum!