Fingers (1978)

 

Restaurant patron: [annoyed] Hey, waiter! Tell this character to turn his radio off!
Jimmy Fingers: What are you tellin’ him for? Tell me!
Restaurant patron: All right, I’m tellin’ ya – turn it off!
Jimmy Fingers: [with incredulity] Do you believe this? This is the Jamies, man! “Summertime, Summertime!” – the most musically inventive song of 1958! What are you eating? Shrimp? Are you gonna tell me this song doesn’t go with your shrimp?

And while we’re at it…

 

“Elevator Going Down: The Story of Muzak” by Luke Baumgarten

 

Luke Baumgarten has a fascinating article on the history of muzak in “Elevator Going Down: The Story of Muzak” published at Red Bull Music Academy.

In the 40s, Muzak got more deliberate about the type and tempo of the music it piped, trademarking “Stimulus Progression”, which gradually amped up the tempo and intensity of its easy listening in 15-minute intervals. The company used only instrumental music, because it was thought that lyrics might knock a worker or a patron out of the rhythm of building or buying or whatever activity the Muzak was piped in to encourage. A raft of in-house research swore that the results of such stimulus was too incredible to ignore. In thewords of the New Yorker, “It was pseudoscience, but it remained alive at the company until the late nineties, partly because it was a useful marketing tool and partly because it seemed so plausible: most people really were happier and more productive when there was something humming along in the background.”

Soon, background music was everywhere, according to Joseph Lanza, author ofElevator Music, an exhaustive Muzak history and hagiography. Muzak was piped into offices, department stores, supermarkets, restaurants, factories and even a few elevators. As Lanza says, “It became a pervasive soundtrack for much of American life.”

And whether or not the company’s science was sound, it was self-fulfilling. Easy listening became a thing people wanted in their homes. In the 40s, record companies began following Muzak’s lead, putting out albums “of soft, melodic instrumental versions of popular tunes, usually with shimmering strings, along with pianos, guitars, or horns to bring out the main melody,” Lanza told us by phone. The classic mood music motif was in place from very early on, and became intertwined with a certain mode of pop music through the 50s and 60s, when, according to Lanza, “massed strings became the musical currency for many popular recordings as well as movie soundtracks [and] likewise became the bulk of Muzak’s output.”

The rest of the article can be found here.

Chicago!

My wife and I recently returned from a brief vacation to Chicago. With the memory of the Windy City still fresh in my mind, I thought it best to capture some of the highlights. This list qualifies only as my “Coles notes”, as there are far too many interesting and exciting shops, theaters and restaurants in Chicago to write about exhaustively here.

Dusty Groove, 110 N Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL — I’ve long been familiar with Dusty Groove as an online record store. It was reassuring to discover that its great staff and onsite collection make its retail store worthy of a visit. Dusty Groove has by far the deepest stock in Brazilian bossa nova, Italian cult soundtracks, and French global grooves in North America. Great prices and amazing selection, both on vinyl and CD.

Quimby’s Bookstore, 1854 Chicago, IL — I figured that Quimby’s would closely resemble Toronto’s The Beguiling–a well-stocked comic book store specializing in arty, indy and classic fare, which it did. However, what I was not expecting was the dense collection of small / micro publishers and fanzines. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a store so completely dedicated to featuring the best in small press publications. Rewards careful perusing   

Music Box, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, IL — Chicago loves its movies–in preparing for the trip, I was very impressed with the number of operational rep theatres screening exciting films (read: not just second-run features). While we were in town, the Music Box was running an ambitious 70mm festival. Buried among worthwhile but expected fare as Vertigo and 2001: A Space Odyssey was Tobe Hooper’s one-off Lifeforce, which we were lucky enough to take in. I should reserve any discussion of Lifeforce for a separate post. As for the Music Box, this was an impressive, well-run rep theatre clearly managed by people who love movies. Worth visiting.

Portage Theater, 4050 N. Miwaukee, Chicago, IL — I don’t know what I expected before we arrived at the Portage but I was certainly pleasantly surprised. The Portage is one of the largest (if not largest) single cinema theatres I’ve ever been to (allegedly it can seat 1,300+). Given its huge hall and gloriously decorated ceiling, I was positive that the Portage must have originally been opened as a vaudeville theatre. However, Wikipedia tells me that I am wrong and that the Portage is in fact one of the first theatres built specifically for screening movies. While we were here, the Portage was screening Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (also worthy of its own post), with a detailed and insightful introduction from local Peckinpah expert Stephen Lloyd. Reviewing its program for the coming months, I was impressed by how consistently exciting of a program Portgage offers. Also of note for being situated near to Chicago’s Six Corners Shopping District, which has to be one of the weirder intersections I have ever had to navigate. 

Intuit: The Centre for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL — Heads up–this is a very small gallery / museum space with a limited amount of art on display. Depending on what exhibits are showing, this may be of more or less interest to you. When we visited, they were featuring the circus drawings of C.T. McClusky, a circus clown who created circus-based collages during the off-season in his rooming house. I found McClusky’s work very impressive but also very sad and lonely. Of course, my wife said that I just read that into everything. Regardless, you should still check this out if only to see the painstaking reproduction of Henry Darger’s apartment (Intuit has been entrusted with all of the possessions Darger stored in his apartment) where he toiled away on his life work In the Realms of the Unreal. And besides, when you are done, you can walk down the street and grab a drink at the…

The Matchbox, 770 N Milwaukee Ave  Chicago, IL — The Matchbox is the definition of the perfect neighbourhood drinking joint. Occupying a long, narrow corner lot, the Matchbox features a bar that runs the length of the place. The only seats are the stools at the bar, behind each being just enough room to stand. However, the windows that also run along the length of the bar provide an excellent look out at the city. The bar is incredibly well stocked with a variety of quality spirits and beer and the staff know their cocktails.