HARDBARNED! The Blog

Xmas Music Torture

I’m no longer in retail, but I worked through the 2009 holiday season in a meticulously manicured monument to epic consumerism.

I'm referring of course to the outdoor shopping mall keystone or “anchor” store—a gigantic sporting goods behemoth next to the big box electronics chain, across from the ubiquitous pusher of middle-American honey-glazed cuisine, greasy tortilla chips and two-for-one well drinks chain, a few feet away from the bridal chain, the jewelry chain, the as-if-it-were-Chinese-food chain, the arts-and-crafts chain, the steakhouse chain, and yes, the bookstore chain, which has ignored three of my applications thus far.

I just wanted to take a moment and reflect on the experience of preparing a major retail store for the holiday season, and particularly I’d like to highlight the music. The relentless, punishing music. Yes I’ve written here once before about my curmudgeonly ways when it comes to popular music, but the Christmas season is particularly special for popular music, isn’t it?

Black Friday came and went without much of a bang. I expected it to be the worst of my days in retail, but it really wasn’t so bad. I arrived at the store at 4:45AM to easily walk through the open front doors, though the line outside the electronics store next door snaked across several blocks and around the surrounding parking lot, among the few open parking spaces and remaining tents from the night before.

People had apparently camped out in the parking lot on the coldest night of the year (thus far) for Matthew McConaughey’s latest rom-com on blu-ray for $10 and two-for-one nine-volt batteries. Well, I guess there were a couple TVs on sale too.

We were busy, of course, but for once the Powers That Be had granted us enough staff to get the job done and keep the customers happy. Instead of one or two people in the department as usual, we had six, staggered throughout the day. We were not overwhelmed, as we so often were during the true mother of awful shopping months: cleat season. We were fed a tasty catered meal for free. Customers behaved and were mostly even cordial. Shoes were sold, and chaos was averted. I do not have any reports from Wal-Mart, however. I hope there were no casualties this year.

The day after Black Friday, the decorations appeared. Enormous, shiny red balls, the size of Ford Explorers, materialized in the parking lot, as if a Jolly Red Giant had been forcibly emasculated in celebration of the retail shopping season. Miniature trees with decorations and lights sprouted up in every department of the store, and holiday-themed sweatshirts and chotchkies emerged at each end-cap and on every display table.

In the current climate of satellite music services and their vast digitized vaults of every genre of music imaginable, one might innocently (or ignorantly) assume that a natural consequence of this shift from DJ-operated CD players to vast "cloud-based" vaults of musical options might result in more variety for the listener. Nope.

Exactly what we were accustomed to expect from our usual country and pop stations rang true with the holiday music channel we were subjected to: approximately 22 songs per station, in perpetual rotation throughout the entirety of every day, meaning we heard every song deemed important by corporate media conglomerates who own the music outlets about once every hour, all retail gift-shopping season long.

Our ears were repeatedly assaulted by the snorting of Dominic The Donkey, which apparently has some sort of holiday significance of which I am hard pressed to discern. Also in perpetual rotation was

The Worst Christmas Song Ever, along with plenty of traditional holiday crooner ballads twisted into a syrupy R&B mess by a revolving troupe of top-40 pop tarts.

These holiday hits were hammered into our skulls relentlessly, every hour of every shift, from even before Thanksgiving until I left the job at the end of the year. Some employees didn't seem to mind and even wore fuzzy reindeer antlers.