Monday, March 16, 2015

Attention shoppers: It's the Ramones

I understand that everything three decades old or older is considered pretty anodyne from a cultural standpoint, regardless of how controversial it may have seemed in its heyday.

Still, to hear (as I did on a recent evening) the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" playing in a Vons grocery store seems like something that should hold at least a tinge of being a tiny bit taboo.

There are other Ramones' songs where the lyrics are such that your grandmother wouldn't balk while shopping ("I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend"—another of their "I Wanna…" tracks), but "Sedated" is not sedate enough to be acceptable for all contexts.

I'm not suggesting that most people are actually paying any sort of attention to the music playing over the public address while shopping; it's merely filling in the background sound so it isn't eerily quiet. I get that. I'm among the tiny minority who notices such things at all. I know.

But someone somewhere made a decision, either explicitly or tacitly, that a song with the repeated line "I wanna be sedated" crossed over into the realm of what is generally acceptable for everyone, and even as much of a fan of the Ramones as I am and even as much of an open-minded individual as I am, I cannot say that were I programming music for a grocery store (and were trying to include some actually good tracks in the mix) that I would put that song in there. For other types of stores or establishments, sure, but not at the supermarket.

Undoubtedly part of my reaction stems from being old enough to have seen the Ramones in concert and remembering a time when they were firmly in the counterculture and a time when the pablum one would hear buzzing while buying food. In my formative years there was a pronounced distinction, and I still struggle with fully accepting that what had been the outside has long since crossed over to be so on the inside that kids might consider it their pablum.

It's one thing to think that as a middle-aged person you have lost all cultural relevancy, but apparently it's more affecting to have that irrelevancy be hammered home in the middle of a Vons store.

Nonetheless, it seems at least some songs should retain a certain status that, even though they're part of a deprecated counterculture that is no longer on-the-outside, is not something all patrons would find perfectly acceptable. It's not a matter of kowtowing to the concerns of the easily offended; it's merely pausing to think for a second about whether Johnny's buzzsaw guitar and Joey's lyrics about escaping the troubles of the world through sedation provide the best environment while someone is picking up apples and milk and bread and eggs, etc. Clearly the words are not sincere (and not as overt as "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue") but it seems specious to assert our society has become so permissive (even with the leaning toward legalizing recreational marijuana use) that those words are best suited for a mainstream supermarket.

In a Trader Joe's, sure. Nobody shopping there would blink if the song came on.


The Beatles are considered very mainstream, of course, but even five decades on I can't see "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" (with its chorus of "Bang bang Maxwell's silver hammer came down upon her head / Bang bang Maxwell's silver hammer made sure that she was dead") as something I'd want my toddler humming along with while we shopped.

That's for me to do with him while giving him a bath, but not out in public.

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