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SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2016
Jimmy Paige playing 'offensive' music
   
There's something about the music you hear in the Dentist's office, in elevators, and on the phone when you're put on hold. It's remarkably just white-noise - something to fill the emptiness. It's not there to be listened to, it's just something to fill in the silence that one would otherwise notice.

I've always been perplexed by the Easy Listening radio station, as well as the Easy Listening artists. Are these artists aware of the ease at which their songs can be heard? Also, what exactly makes a song easy listening?

I imagine the easy really refers to one primary quality - that it is inoffensive to all ears. Your parents can listen to it, their parents can, your children can, as well as yourself - unless of course, you are of the opinion that anything easy is not worth any attention. That makes me wonder what would qualify as offensive then. There's obvious genres that are immediately off the table - like death metal, gangsta rap, songs filled with sexual innuendo, and anything with a 7 minute guitar solo. But, beyond that - why are you more likely to hear Elton John on these radio stations over, say Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin - both of whom have vast catalogues of lyrically inoffensive songs.

This leads me to believe it's something in the music itself. You'd be a fool to doubt the fine work of Jimmy Paige, or Jimi Hendrix - though I admit they aren't for everyone. Perhaps it is because both these guitar players went beyond the simple rhythms, and tried something unfamiliar. Afterall - it's the unfamiliar that most are troubled with. When I hear Led Zeppelin, or I hear Hendrix, my ears immediately start actively listening - dissecting the notes, piecing it all together, finding that the whole is not necessarily the sum of its parts, but far more than that, and I'm enthralled by the music. And this is not particularly easy. It involves the listener, makes them want more. More recently, it's bands like Radiohead and The White Stripes that do this to me. Radiohead being far beyond something for everyone - particularly when they have songs with a repeting heavy beat, and a voice whose pitch has been altered with a computer, listing off the many types of doors. "There are sliding doors, and there are secret doors."

That being said then, it leads me to believe that some musicians are comfortable with staying within the confines of the easy-listening category. While I would consider easy-listening not-worth listening, and can't understand why anyone would really quite bother with such music - it's not that it's bad, it's just that it's boring - I know that some people prefer it.

So why did I write that I don't understand Easy Listening radio, and artists who make Easy Listening songs? Well, as I've mentioned, because my usual encounter with Easy Listening is in the dentists office, or when I'm on hold, I can only draw two possible conclusions. Either all dentist secretaries are Easy Listening fans, and there's not a single rocker amongst them, or Easy Listening is that white noise to fill the gaps - or, in more blunt terms - it's designed to be ignored.

This, in my mind, raises something somewhat paradoxical. An Easy Listening artist designs his song to be ignored. The record company promotes the song to be ignored, to Easy Listening Radio stations - stations which have built themselves upon broadcasting songs that are to be largely ignored. The dentist office secretary - secretly a rock fan - knows she must tune the radio to the Easy Listening station, and plays the songs to be ignored. It seems like a lot of effort for something that is going to be, as I've said, ignored.

The only thing more peculiar is when the ignorable artist flies to a city, to perform his ignorable songs to people who paid upwards of $50 to sit in chairs and listen. Not having attended these concerts myself, I wonder if the musician and music is treated as white noise in these situations as well, and the audience goes about doing something else. Or if there's any Pavlovian reaction to the music - do they feel they're on hold? Do they get anxious about sitting in a dentists chair?

And perhaps I've hit upon the reason for the Easy Listening. Easy Listening is rather emotionless. Or, maybe that's not quite it. Easy Listening is not fueled by emotion. They aren't passionate love songs, screaming angry songs, nerve wracking songs, or depressing songs. They're songs that are designed to be ignored, so that while you actively ignore the songs, you enter a state of dull bored apathy - some confuse this with "being calm." And this is probably the state they want you in, before you sit in the dentists chair. It's definitely easier to handle than someone who can't sit in their chair from being all riled up after listening to fast-paced punk rock songs. And the person who just put you on hold definitely doesn't want to fuel the fire with some angry metal, if you're calling to make a complaint.

And why not play the inoffensive Led Zeppelin songs?
One reason: "Let's wait 'til the song's done..."


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