Friday, March 19, 2010

Location-Specific Music and Other Oddities

Who here remembers the lovely '90s phenomenon that was the Dentist's Office Saxophone? I know you know what I mean. That charmingly cheesy, reedy crooning a la Kenny G (whose brother, incidentally, teaches in the music department at Wake Forest). The sort of thing that, I kid you not, *always* played in the dentist's office when you were waiting for a cleaning or an x-ray because the receptionists were under strict orders that the "Light FM" stations were the best child-friendly adult-aimed radio to put on. I mean, let's face it: if they'd chosen something like the classic rock station, every Baby Boomer who came in would attempt to sing along to songs like "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Carry On Wayward Son" in the midst of their root canals and the dentists would throw up their hands in frustration. I'm sure it's bad enough for the dentist that he has to have his hands and face in your mouth to correct the consequences of your negligence of oral health and hygiene, but does he *really* have to suffer through your tone-deaf renditions of Paul Simon and Bob Seger as well?

Still struggling to go back that far in your consciousness to recall just what songs contained the infamous Dentist's Office Saxophone? Fear not: I just found one in my iTunes:
Every Time I Close My Eyes - Babyface with Mariah Carey.

Other songs that would fit the bill of dentist's office listening with or without saxophone?
absolutely any song that Celine Dion ever recorded.
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen
Crash Into Me - Dave Matthews Band
The One - Elton John
You Were Meant for Me - Jewel
Amazed - Lonestar
God Must Have Spent (a Little More Time on You) - *NSYNC
As Long As You Love Me - Backstreet Boys

The other location-specific music style I was reminded of by this was the Grocery Store Guitar. You know exactly what I mean. Again: the soft rock, light FM style of music. Soothing background sounds. And then, there's a finger-plucked acoustic guitar riffing a melody line for a bridge in a way that feels vaguely Latin.
Prime example? To The Moon and Back - Savage Garden.

What I will first confess is that, oh yeah, *all* of these songs are in my iTunes collection. And yet, there's a certain pleasant nostalgia that their dated natures evoke. For instance, the guitar riff in the bridge of To The Moon and Back always reminds me of the Mars Supermarket that was just down the street from our neighbourhood. It lived just off Ritchie Highway - the road that ran a nearly straight line through the entire county - and across Furnace Branch Road from the Taco Bell my dad used to manage. There was a giant car park that sprawled out in front of the Mars, which stood at right angles, separated by a few tiny stores (a Sally's Beauty Supply, a Dollar Store, a dry cleaner), to the K-Mart. Of course, K-Mart lasted in its many incarnations for ages, and almost every Saturday once the weather turned back towards spring's higher temperatures, there were father-son remote control car rallies. They had several small marquees and would set up a large Indy 500-esque track while pot-bellied mechanics, car sales men, and retail managers raced their toy cars in circles to the hyperactive delight of their little boys.

All it takes is a single instrument in a song to recall the tacky dark wood-panelling of my dentist's office - where I once, after receiving Novocaine for the first time in my life, proceeded to pretend I had a stroke for my mother's amusement. I held my right arm at that awkward angle that reminds me now of Marcus Brigstocke talking about chavs and Olivier's Richard III. I then limped across the reception room, dragging my foot behind me. Surprisingly, Mom seemed to find it entertaining. The dentist, however, wasn't amused.

Likewise, the seemingly semi-conscious ramblings of anyone resembling a Light FM DJ call to mind images of our orthodontist's receptionist, Nancy. She was one of those receptionists who could work with children well, but you could tell that she was heading out at her lunch break for a smoke and a less-than-reputable tabloid. Like many a mom or 30-50-year-old woman in the part of Maryland where I grew up, she'd done the Short Mom Hair: highlighted and bleached to great effect, and styled in the morning so that if the 'do was too fresh, she resembled a pineapple. There were little wrinkles around her eyes and the corners of her mouth - you could tell the latter were from puckering her lips to take a drag - and though they did nothing to make her look haggard or old, they definitely weren't concealed by the thick foundation or the obvious effects of many a Saturday afternoon in a tanning bed. Her nails, acrylic of course, were always perfectly polished and squared off; more often than not, coordinated vaguely to her scrubs of choice. They made a very satisfying "clack clack" sound whenever she typed up the form for your next appointment. And best of all, Nancy always remembered your name and what you were doing in school. She took an interest, maybe not in her job, but in the families she worked with. She was a good lady.

All of this is to say: it's worth rejoicing in the abject cheesiness of such phenomena as the Dentist's Office Saxophone and the Grocery Store Guitar. Their dated wheezings and twangs can recall wonderful childhood moments and places, as well as containing that very hipster-esque enjoyment derived from enjoying something you readily admit as absolute rubbish. I think it's now time for a little Ricky Martin...


  1. This made me laugh out loud. And you'll also be interested to know that the Mars you speak of no longer exits. It is now the new home of the Best Buy from the GB mall across the street.

  2. Haha, I'm glad you enjoyed it. But no! My memories of childhood and adolescence are shattered! The Mars is gone! ;-) I take it the Giant behind the bowling alley is still there?