When Playlists Play Dirty
Now that iPods have killed Muzak and other audio pipelines, a restaurant’s sound track can say as much about the place as its bathrooms or menu typeface. At least this is what my friends and I like to think: Whenever we’re at a restaurant, we dutifully note the meal’s playlist, and by the time the check arrives, we’ve used it to characterize the mind behind the music, whom we assume (perhaps unfairly) is trying to tell us something about himself and the soul of his restaurant via Serge Gainsbourg and the Arcade Fire. For example, a restaurant where we were recently pummeled with a trifecta of Joss Stone, Modest Mouse and—what?—Jim Croce was deemed “an old man who shops at Urban Outfitters.” Another, which followed The Bangles with Joy Division with Mariah Carey, “is clearly cheeking his meds.” Or else he hasn’t figured out that “party shuffle” does not a party make.
But I’ve never had a restaurant use a playlist to speak directly to me—until Tuesday night. (Apparently it happens to famous people all the time, though.) As a few of us were finishing up a late-ish dinner at a restaurant that prides itself on late-night dining, the music got noticeably louder and Ray Charles began belting “Hit the Road Jack…” I looked around; we were the last table. (Not on purpose, mind you: We had waited an hour for our entrees. And it was still an hour before the restaurant was even supposed to close.) “Wow, that’s passive-aggressive,” one friend muttered. “What’s next, ‘Closing Time’?” Sure enough, Semisonic’s 1998 smash hit followed: “So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits…” Ouch. We didn’t stick around long enough to hear what followed, but I imagine it started, “Na-na-na-na, hey, hey…”