Good food, great friends, terrible music: The tyranny of 'Wagon Wheel'

January 10, 2013 

The service, scene and spirits are all on point.

The menu looks good, the meat and beer all local.

Heck, even the lighting is pretty good, dim enough to be intimate but not cavelike.

This is an otherwise great bar or restaurant and could easily become your local, a place you and your friends while away misguided nights, eating and drinking your paychecks and solving the world’s problems by last call.

Or, at the very least, deciding once and for all which “Saturday Night Live” cast was the funniest.

But something is missing. Something feels off.

Is that Journey?

Tom Petty?

“Brown-Eyed Girl?”

Please, not “Wagon Wheel.” Not again.

We’ve got to get out of here.

Call me pretentious or shallow, but I’ve always deemed bad music in a bar or restaurant to be a cardinal sin, an inexcusable error that almost always sends me and those of my admittedly snobby ilk scrambling for the exits.

But what’s the big deal? It’s just music, right? Not really.

Music, not unlike the movies and books we like, are an extension of us. They often say much more about us than we realize or would care to share.

Thus, any restaurateur or barkeep willing to blast mediocre music from the stereo is unafraid to tell me that he cares little about the things I care about, that he feels no responsibility or has no interest in educating or challenging his clientele.

This music is playing it safe. It’s not going to offend anyone. It’s American cheese.

And that’s not me.

I have always enjoyed playing a song for someone they likely would never have happened upon on their own or take them to a restaurant and try food they never would have dared try, only to fall in love with.

Often the barrier of entry to something we believe to be too cool or too hip to us exists only in our minds and, to me, that music represents a strengthening of that barrier and the further entrenchment of the staid, safe and saccharin.

There’s nothing wrong with an old classic, a touchstone for us to return to in times of uncertainty. It’s the greasy spoon where you get an average bagel and a cup of concentrated orange juice while you read the paper, or that song that feels less reminiscent of a particular place in time and has faded into the fabric of our lives.

But often, it is time for something new. We need to be challenged, and Tom Petty isn’t challenging anybody.

Whether they care to be, bars and restaurants are tastemakers. They are what the rest of us look to to find out what we should be drinking or eating that had otherwise escaped our notice. To shirk that responsibility to avoid upsetting some cranky regular is unconscionable.

This week, I compiled a playlist of eight songs I would love to hear upon walking into any good bar or restaurant. This music would let me know that the owner or whoever is in charge of putting this music together gets it.

Seriously, stop it with the “Wagon Wheel.”

• Tapes n’ Tapes, “Insistor” — Volume is crucial with this song. Played too loud and it could be a real nightmare but playing softly in the background, this song is a toe-tapper.

• Tokyo Police Club, “Gone” — Absolutely infatuated with the guitars and drums on this song. This is the kind of song that would make two people stop mid-conversation, lift their heads toward the speakers and say, “What is this song?” That’s what we’re going for here.

• The Virgins, “Week of Danger” — The kind of old-school rock’n’roll song that every jukebox needs.

• Telekinesis, “Coast of Carolina” — For all of you “Wagon Wheel” who just love hearing the word “Carolina” in a song.

• The Dodos, “Fables” — A perfectly charming song well-suited for a coffee shop or gastropub.

• The Rural Alberta Advantage, “Two Lovers” — Ditto for this song.

• Los Campesinos! “By Your Hand” — A song that is impossible to hear and not move in some way. Even if it’s awkward.

• The Postal Service, “Brand New Colony” — I can’t be the only person glad The Postal Service gave us one perfect record.

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