What Will Muzak Sound Like in 30 Years?
Last night, a group of us went to The Golden Steer.
Located west of The Strip on Sahara Blvd., The Golden Steer is Las Vegas’ quintessential old-world steakhouse. First opened in 1958, it was the regular hangout for members of the famed Rat Pack. Frank, Sammy, Dean, and their pals even had their own plush red-leather booth near the front entrance (which still remains the most requested table in the house).
As expected, the background music inside the dining room was exclusively from the mid-1950’s. The set list included popular tunes we’ve all heard countless times before on hundreds of occasions. Old-fashioned steakhouses, traditional Italian restaurants, and other upscale venues catering to older clientele (with money) usually pipe in a steady stream of these old standards as house background music, even though the legends who first performed the songs are long gone. A cynic might say these are songs by dead people for the dying.
At one point our table conversation turned to music. Someone in the group wondered aloud what kinds of songs will be played in places like The Golden Steer a generation from now. Odds are, this particular restaurant won’t be around in the year 2044. This busy intersection will probably be a parking lot. But plenty of other restaurants are likely to be thriving, including culinary concepts and dining experiences we can’t even imagine now. Class and good food never goes out of style.
Will the trendy restaurants of tomorrow gradually morph into modernity? Might we get to the point where the old standards are replaced totally by rap and techno music? Well, of course. We’re already there. At least in some places.
Today, if you dine anywhere inside the Aria or the Cosmopolitan, you won’t hear Sinatra or Bennett. Instead, you’ll encounter a constant backbeat and a thunderous reverberation commonly associated with the nightclub scene. During a recent visit to one of these new trendy restaurants, I found the “backgrouund” music to be so loud I couldn’t hear the table conversation. Diners had to yell at each other across the table in order to be heard.
Someone within our group commented that many years ago the idea of playing Sinatra and Bennett inside an upscale steakhouse must have been pretty radical. These same kinds of places were playing the waltz before shockers like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “Strangers in the Night” were introduced and managed to piss off the old guard who must have even thought big band music was trash. Despite protestation by some, most musical transitions are inevitable, and healthy.
The term commonly associated with background music and the mindless dreck we often hear while standing inside elevators is “muzak.” It’s a diluted, non-threatening thoroughly predictable soundtrack of familiar pop songs intended to fill an empty void, but which actually manages to blaspheme the songwriters’ original messages and intentions. Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin — all jumped the shark as couter-culture figures once their songs were converted over to muzak. Something seems very wrong when “Revolution” gets a symphony of strings treatment and a blue hair using a walker is whistling the chorus en route to the cardiologist’s office. Or, is it wrong? Instead, might this actually be the ultimate compliment for a musician?
Which brings us to the final question posed about music at The Golden Steer. What will 50- and 60-year-olds who are dining out in the year 2044 be listening to when they sit down inside a traditional restaurant? What will they hear when stepping onto an elevator? Justin Timberlake? Beyonce? Flavor Flav? Snoop Dog? Will their music eventually be put to strings?
The answer seems pretty obvious. Future twentysomethings who aren’t even born yet will look upon Timberlake, Beyonce, Flav, and Snoop Dog the same way most of today’s young people now view Sinatra and Bennett. Just about everything has a shelf life and is stamped with an invisble expiration date.
But not quite everything. Some things do endure. The greatest accomplishments are timeless. True art stays with us forever.
Future generations will continue to marvel at Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven and the masters for a very good reason. This is because the music they created centuries ago remains just as powerful as the day it was written — perhaps even more so given all the technological advancements in sound. One could make the same argument in favor of the masters of the previous century — including Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and many others. Indeed, any song written by George Gershwin or Rodgers and Hammerstein never goes out of style.
In this regard, strangely enough, muzak becomes the ultimate compliment to any composer. It encyclopedia-izes a catchy tune into our collective consciousness. Places like The Golden Steer and elevators essentially become libraries for the classics.
The Golden Steer will probably be long gone 30 years from now. But Mozart, Gershwin, and Sinatra will remain with us, perhaps forever. That said, endurance remains very much an open question for many of today’s most popular artists. It’s not how many records are sold today that necessarily matters. Rather, it’s if music and song stands the test of time. That’s an artist’s true measure of immortality.
Strange as it sounds, once you hear a song inside an elevator, that is once it becomes muzak, it remains attached to the soundtrack of our lives forever.