by RIP RENSE
(April 6, 2005)
know that things are not always what they appear to be, and not
everyone can think clearly all the time. Why, some people are handicapped
and cannot think clearly at any time.
I once knew a
woman with mild brain damage who could not differentiate between beef and
chicken. “Chicken’s beef,” she observed.
explains it. Perhaps the people at Hear Music in Santa Monica think that
chicken is beef. Or, to be fair, one of their clerks. Or to be more fair,
whoever trained one of their clerks.
For it was at
Hear Music in Santa Monica, on that Portal to Corporate Hell known as
the Third Street Promenade, that I learned the remarkable news that music is
not music. It is real estate.
Not since Alice’s
croquet mallets turned into flamingoes have I been so startled.
I guess I should
have seen it coming. Hear Music is a CD boutique that recently grafted a
Starbucks to its entrance, which is sort of like inviting Kenny Lay to date
your daughter. And it means that Hear employees are probably
deranged with caffeine, liable to say anything.
But there is more
to all this than freedom of espresso.
Lend me your
ears, children, and I will tell you a tale of corporate brainwashing
so insidious, so tragic, that you might never listen to real estate again. I
It begins with Hear
Music’s offer to build your own chicken---I mean CD. That’s correct, you may
select from Hear’s database of many thousands of songs and assemble your
very own CD at one of about a half-dozen computer screens embedded in a
smooth, ergonomically lighted wood counter. $6.99 for the first six tunes,
and a dollar each after that.
I thought so. A
clerk spent about ten minutes affably---just a couple teeth shy of
unctuously---explaining the process to me. Ten minutes! Never mind that it
was self explanatory on the computer screen, and is essentially accomplished
with a magic wand on a touch-screen, as is all modern human experience,
| It’s part of a sanitized, mass-marketed
sort of pseudo-beat trendiness (the diametrical opposite, by the
way, of whatever actual beats ever represented.)
understood that Clerk had his pre-fab spiel to spew, and it did explain
just about everything except String Theory and gene-splicing, so I didn’t
mind. I was affable, too. Well, maybe a couple of teeth shy. And my ears
perked up when he said this (reconstructed from memory):
“If you don’t find what you
want in our database, you can pull pretty much any CD in the store, scan it
here, and the songs will pop up for you to select what you want.”
Why, it was almost
subversive! I couldn’t resist. I had in mind a great, jumping New Orleans
record culled from many sources. I really needed a great, jumping New
So the next day, I
returned to Hear Music to accomplish this very task. As I was about to
begin, I thought I would double-check that bit about scanning CDs from the
racks, as it seemed too good to be true. A different clerk was on duty,
assisting a man from Germany.
“Zo,” said the
German fellow, “you only carry what iss trendy?"
“No, sir,” said the
clerk. “We carry what sells the most.”
“Jah, dat iss vat I
said. You carry vhatever iss trendy.”
“No, sir, we carry
whatever sells the most.”
customer stared back in lengthy silence, apparently trying to figure out
if he should further engage the American Capitalist Robot, then gave up and
moved on. My turn.
“Hi, I’d like to double check something. If I don’t find on your
database what I am seeking, I can just pull a CD off the shelf, scan it, and
work from there, correct?”
Robot was in his mid-to-late 20s, with greasy black-ish hair combed forward
in a fashion doubtlessly considered “cool.” (Of course, what isn’t
considered cool?) To my frame of reference, the haircut was a modified Moe
Howard, a dippy ‘do that ‘40s goofball comic Ish Kabibble would envy. Clerk
spoke (also reconstructed from memory):
“Sir,” he said,
“Music is real estate. This is a business and an industry. We have thousands
and thousands of songs available. Michael Jackson owns The Beatles’
catalogue, and. . .”
He went on.
He spoke rapidly
and with a rehearsed cadence and tone that suggested Pentagon
mind-control, or at least lots of practice in front of a mirror. He had
launched into nothing less than an oral dissertation on the music industry,
and he showed no sign of stopping.
Because I had
already spent ten minutes of my life listening to Clerk Number One explain
how to make my own CD, I figured I had done my Hear Music sentence. So I
“Excuse me, I’m
sorry to interrupt, but I just want to know if. . .(I repeated the
Kabibble would not
“Sir,” he said,
“music is real estate, and in this industry---“
a second, please,” I said, putting up my hands, and smiling. “I realize you
have to go through a prepared speech, but I really don’t have time to hear
it. And please stop telling me that music is real estate---”
“Sir,” said Kabibble, “Music is real estate, and---“
My mind fleetingly, reluctantly grappled with this
notion. Music is real estate? Was he referring coyly to Mahler’s “Song of
the Earth?” Earth, Wind and Fire? The great latino band, Tierra? Carole
King’s “I Feel The Earth Move?”
please,” I smiled. “Stop telling me that music is real estate.
Okay? Stop it. Cease. Music is not real estate. Real estate is real estate.
Music is a beautiful art form.”
“Sir, I’m a
musician and I agree with you,” Kabibble ka-babbled. “Unfortunately, in
today’s world, music is real es---“
I put my
hands up again.
|He works in an emporium of cool, controlled by
the merchants of cool, targeting the moneyed young consumers of cool,
who drink cool corporate coffee.
“Whoah! Look, I’m
sure you are a nice fellow doing your job, but I don’t want to hear your
lecture about music being real estate. I asked you a simple question, and I
want an answer. Can you please answer that question? I’ll repeat it: if I
take a CD off the rack and scan it, I can then access those songs for my
make-your-own CD, correct?”
“That is not
I swear that
Kabibble’s voice had begun to tremble. Starbucks!
“But that is what a clerk told me in here yesterday.”
“Sir, I’m sorry there was a misunderstanding, but---“
“No. No. There
was no misunderstanding. That’s what I was told. He spoke the
words, and I understood them.”
ka-bobbled, ka-boogied. His body joined his quavering voice. The gent was
jiggling, head to foot, as if on sudden double-latte overdrive. Parkinson's?
No. Get this: I had apparently offended him, and he was shaking with barely
restrained rage! And here I had said not a single word about his hair.
“Well, I’m s-sorry
there was a miscommunication,” he managed, summoning “difficult
customer response # 12.”
miscommunication. . .Could “misspoke” be far off?
“No. There was no miscommunication. That is what the
clerk explained to me.”
“Well then he was wrong!”
“Well, why would he
flashed. The whites showed all around them for a split second. And then---
“Well he lied!”
“He lied? He
lied? What are you saying? How do you know he lied? You are accusing a
fellow employee of lying to customers? Look, pal, this is ridiculous. I just
asked you a simple question, and it has turned into madness. I’ll tell you
what: I’m never going to do business with Hear Music again because of this
Kabibble kept his
kool, lapsing as programmed into angry customer control all-purpose
response, good for any occasion:
“I agree with you sir, and I understand.”
That was it.
follow-up phone call to a female clerk---apparently yet unbrainwashed, or at
least decaffeinated--- got my answer: yes, you can scan any CD, and if the
tracks are licensed for purchase, they’re yours. Yet Kabibble could not
explain this. He was programmed. He did not understand the concept of
conversation, or explanation. He was deeply impressed with himself for
reciting what he imagined to be a pithy, sophisticated grasp of the music
business, but what was actually soulless, venal prattle.
encounter with a flake? No. The point of all this is that Kabibble is
everywhere. He has become the archetypal cool young American. He works in an
emporium of cool, controlled by the merchants of cool, targeting the moneyed
young consumers of cool, who drink cool corporate coffee. He doesn’t even
realize that he is a corporate stooge. A cool jerk.
A place like Hear
Music is rigorously---it’s not too much to say scientifically---designed to
market cool, from the soft wood to the Starbucks to the implicitly
subversive burn-your-own-CDs offer. It’s part of a sanitized, mass-marketed
sort of pseudo-beat trendiness (the diametrical opposite, by the way, of
whatever actual beats ever represented.)
To the Kabibbles,
music is most certainly real estate, and thanks to their getting with the
corporate program, it will become even more so. It’s product. Listening
product. Just as books have become reading product. And don’t you dare
disagree with them.
These people are
full of Starbucks.
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