Muzak of our lives: Divine intervention or self-neurosis?

    Muzak. It’s that canned, piped-in keyboard version of “Muskrat Love” that’s played in the background of bleak offices, awkward elevator situations and white-knuckled dentist visits. It’s lovably horrible, and though it often goes unnoticed, it’s the score to these days of our lives.

    I, however, use the term “Muzak” loosely, fully utilizing any sort of artistic license that I may have earned. It’s my personal, all-inclusive word for any background music that’s often forgotten and uncelebrated (especially if one is inebriated, but I’ll get to that later).

    It’s plain and simple: Muzak doesn’t get its proper recognition. Whether it’s some divine music-god intervention, or just some over-analyzation by yours truly, it happens. Muzak plays an ironic or meaningful role in most situations. Case in point: the weekend I just spent in Las Vegas, complete with 25 people crammed into two rooms.

    (This is where the music and the inebriation comes in.)

    That’s right, 25 bodies generating way too much heat and way too much stuff, in two rooms. Rock-star style all the way, and of course music highlighted the most momentous parts of the whirlwind 48 hours. Consider the time some members of the group participated in beer bong activities and smoked cigarettes with the Strokes playing in the background. The Strokes, the same band that smokes and drinks on stage. Get it?

    (Music and alcohol. How else were we supposed to be happy about sleeping in our clothes on a hotel room floor? Or spooning with people one wouldn’t normally spoon with?)

    After seven hours of traffic, most of the group arrived in Vegas ready to eat their own arms. Bottles in hand, and with confirmation that the all-night dining establishment, the Sherwood Cafe, did in fact serve beer, we settled down to a meal that included only a 20-percent gratuity. Of course, no one paid much attention at the time to the fine muzak, though I distinctly remember shimmying and lip-synching to Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

    “Breakfast.” It didn’t strike me then, but I get it now. It was 3 a.m. We were eating. Hey, I napped in the car. I may be stretching here, and my lovely $4 cup of cream of potato soup certainly isn’t a Carnation Instant Breakfast, but I figured it loosely translates into the first and most important meal of that day.

    While “Tiffany” doesn’t factor much (OK, at all) into this equation, the music gods clearly sent us that song. And thus began a weekend full of muzakal gems that I didn’t even realize were bestowed until now.

    When five of the men on the trip decided, in a moment of sobriety, that it would be a good idea to go-kart race, muzak was there. Watching them decked out in helmets and full red or blue race suits — this was some serious go-karting — I felt like I should have been wearing a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, watching NASCAR. With the American flag and miscellaneous sponsor signs hung throughout the warehouse that contained the race track, Van Halen blared out of speakers that seemed to be precariously attached to the walls.

    It’s no “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynryd Skynrd, but that would just be too obvious. It’s all about understatement and subtlety, folks. It’s that hard, classic rock sound that makes me think of fast cars, feathered hair and down-home country fun like go-kart racing.

    If that’s not a strong enough message, what about sitting at the bar at O’Shea’s with Britney Spears’ “Toxic” ringing in my ears? O’Shea’s is no Bellagio and I don’t think it tries to be; it knows its place in the world. Britney “singing” a song titled “Toxic” at a place that served beer in plastic cups for $2 and half-pound hot dogs just makes sense. The casino and the music were cheap, arguably noxious and the yin to the other’s yang.

    Insert a favorite bad hip-hop song into the next episode on this Las Vegas odyssey, and you will practically be there with us. At first I’m happily trudging up the strip, then the next thing I know we’re rolling down Las Vegas Boulevard in a stretch SUV limousine. In that moment, with the hip-hop song so loud I couldn’t figure out what it was, I became everyone I hate. But it’s acceptable. The muzak was so perfect, it made it acceptable. What else should you be listening to, riding in such a ride, in such a place as Vegas (baby).

    And, finally, the car ride home. It was on a mix CD, and it wasn’t even a mix I made (hell, I wasn’t even in the same car, but I heard about it later), but Phantom Planet’s “California” was on. Headed right back to where we started from, the Vegas odyssey was complete.

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