Saturday, Aug. 21 | “I love the songs you play here and on the street, they’re really good,” a woman tells an employee inside This n’ That Amish Outlet in Old Town Warrenton, Virginia, and I restrain myself from yelling, “Yes! I think so, too!” across the store.
I’d unconsciously started noticing the music stream myself – golden oldies, they’d be called these days1 – after we’d wedged the Vespas into a parking space on Main Street.
We were in Warrenton as part of a short, simple 90-mile ride to get us out of the house and back on the saddle, preparatory for the St. Petersburg mission later this year.
The realization crept up in a subtle way with me thinking, gee, that’s an oldie and then haven’t heard that one in a while and suddenly, wait, what’s going on?
It started with “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas playing on an outdoor speaker as we crossed the street.
One song after another, post-Elvis Presley and pre-disco: “Can’t Find My Way Home,” by Blind Faith in The Open Book book store down the street, then “Please Come to Boston” by Dave Loggins and “No Matter What” by Badfinger.
I feel silly asking, but a very polite staffer at The Open Book tells me their music comes from Spotify, brought in by computer and played on Bluetooth speakers. She doesn’t know what other stores on the street use but says the choice is theirs.
“We use indie-folk because it’s calming and doesn’t distract from people reading,” she says.
You hear music in every commercial venue, often to the point of saturation. So you ignore it, even as you’re being manipulated. Retailers often use music to make customers more susceptible to buying things, psychologists say2.
Part of that is music’s ability to shift you in time, to trigger memories you’ve stuffed away. I wouldn’t have been surprised to catch Blind Faith in the bookstore, but it was like the entire town was playing the same Spotify list, making me think it was 1971.
The ride itself was good. Erebus seemed more comfortable, or maybe I’m getting used to being uncomfortable.
I ended up buying the new biography of Malcolm X at The Open Book. I intended to get it at some point3, but it’s always good to patronize independent bookstores whenever possible, even if insidious, scheming, diabolical music-wielding market researchers will claim the purchase as a victory4.
1 – No Rolling Stones or Beatles, though.
2 – Loud music causes shoppers to leave quickly; soft music entices them to stay. And some studies say music in a minor key is associated with sadness, which shoppers address by buying something to release reassuring dopamine.
3 – I’ve read the 1964 autobiography, written with Alex Haley, but I want to compare this highly regarded new book with the bios written by Bruce Perry in 1991 and by Manning Marable in 2011.
4 – They can also crow about an iTunes sale, since I put “Please Come to Boston” and “No Matter What” on my iPod to be used later in this year’s St. Petersburg soundtrack – the songs I play for Linda in the morning every day of the ride. Look, don’t tell her about them, okay?