Sunday, June 12, 2011

Start the Music

Whatever happened to elevator music? It seems to have become extinct, at least in public places, which is where elevator music performed its greatest service.

Sure, the music was as bland as warmed over Cream of Wheat, as insipid as a Nicholas Sparks’ novel, but that was its great strength. Elevator music could be ignored. It was easy to ignore. Like one of those nettlesome tasks that you really ought to do, but which no one will notice if you don’t, it begged to be ignored.

Elevator music was the accompaniment to the unpleasant but necessary. Exposure usually came when you were somewhere you didn’t want to be – a waiting room, for example, biding your time until the nurse announced that the proctologist would see you.

Hugo Winterhalter, Andre Kostelanetz, Lawrence Welk, Enoch Light, Nelson Riddle and the rest were ideal waiting-room companions. If you wanted to read, or solve a crossword puzzle or share your medical history and all its nauseating details with the stranger next to you, they didn’t interfere. And if you wanted to sleep, elevator music was a terrific soporific.

If there was a problem with elevator music, it was possibility that you might be vaguely familiar with the lyrics to one of those meandering melodies. Then those few words, that phrase, that snippet of schmaltz would linger in your head. The mind wanted to sing, but the only words it knew were “baubles and bangles and beads,” or “shall we dance, bum ba bum,” or “across a crowded room,” or “I’m crossing you in…a boat?” or “mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy…whatever.”

It was frustrating. The words refused to leave and all the things you were supposed to remember disappeared in the confusion. Still, a dose of something stronger, say, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” was usually sufficient to send the bothersome lyrics packing.

Sadly, elevator music has been banished from most waiting rooms and replaced with televisions permanently tuned to one or the other 24-hour news stations. Regardless of their politics, all news networks have one thing in common: announcers with loud, screeching, grating, nasally unpleasant voices. And to add to the dissonance, the announcers are apparently required to talk fast; perhaps they’re paid by the word.

It’s nigh on impossible to read, or carry on a conversation or nod off for a moment when the waiting room is filled with the frenzied, jarring, ear-piercing yammering of people whose job it is to convince us that the end is near – right after this commercial break. Stay tuned or miss the apocalypse.

To make matters worse, all these news people, with their degrees in English or journalism or communications from America’s great universities, are incapable of asking a simple question. Five minutes of dissonant speed talking produces a disjointed and convoluted query that might have a point to it – somewhere.

Then the guest says, “Well, Sharon, I think…”

Only to have the newscaster interrupt: “I’m sorry, Senator, but we’re out of time. Thank you for dropping by.”

Then the nurse calls you, and the doctor takes your blood pressure.

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