Elevator Music – Joseph Lanza

Picador, 1994
This looked like a promising book on Muzak, lounge music, and everything in between,
but I was disappointed in the end by it. Desperately in need of a coherent thesis and a discriminating editor, Joseph Lanza’s book is a bit of history here, some hagiography there, with one or two interviews thrown in because he could.
One main problem is that I don’t believe Lanza likes half of the music he writes about. Sure he probably likes Martin Denny and Les Baxter, but I don’t feel any passion when he’s writing about Mantovani. And it’s like he thought the former would be a great topic for a book, or perhaps Muzak (and aren’t they the same thing? I hear someone rhetorically asking), then set off to write. As deadline loomed Lanza discovers–gasp–he doesn’t really like 90% of this stuff.
Evidence of my theory is that he packs his hagiographies of these artists with ad copy quotes from the backs of albums. Instead of responding to the music honestly, Lanza tells us what some record company stooge in the ’50s told us to feel.
The initial history of Muzak is interesting, as the idea of music as crowd control is examined. But then follows a long section of musician biographies, none of which are particularly enlightening, or made me curious to hunt anybody’s work down in thrift stores. To me there’s worlds of difference between Peter Nero and Antonio Jobim–to Lanza there’s not.
Then the book looks around for things to write about. He spends a chapter on the Mystic Moods and 101 Strings orchestras, trying to make a case for their albums’ sonic playfulness. There’s a chapter on “space music” and Windham Hill that doesn’t tell me too much about the label and its impact (and isn’t that impact over?).
As this book is written in 1994, we get an interview with Angelo Badalamenti on his Twin Peaks music, but it feels out of place here. Lanza tries to make a case for his subject and overreaches:

“Demographics in the future will be defined less and less by sex, age, politics, or even income, and more and more by one’s taste for exotic locales or nostalgic situations absorbed from childhood television exposure–a social direction which gives background music an awe-inspiring role.”

You don’t actually believe that, do you?
Anyway, do we even have Muzak piped in buildings these days? Everywhere I go, they have bloody “lite rock” playing, supposedly soothing me with the screechings of Mariah and Whitney.

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