I was in Pizza Hut last week with a few friends from a far away exotic land (well, America) and it was a memorable evening. Despite the catastrophic failure on our part to not investigate the ice cream factory at any point, the virtually inedible vinaigrette that the salad bar carrot was dying in, and the at-best lukewarm hot chocolate I ordered (don’t ask why), it was a wholly pleasant trip to the Hut for me. Why? For one, unlimited salad turns me on better than a lesbian bubble bath in a college dorm. For two, and more importantly, I love me some good background music. It was the Willy Mason song, “We Can Be Strong,” if I remember right, and it immediately caught my ear. Swiftly followed by a Simon & Garfunkel number, I was impressed. It’s such a little thing, ambient music, and I think it goes unnoticed by most people.
Being a 23-year-old male student, I’m teased in some circles for watching Eastenders. Maybe such teasing is warranted, and maybe this legendary British soap opera is of great cultural value and should never be derided under any circumstances, but I often find myself drifting out of the dialogue in favour of identifying the music playing in the café or pub. It’s a game I play with myself. Thinking about that now, I think I might be the saddest person this side of the average 4chan user, and at least they tend to have some impact on the world of virtual pop culture. I’m just an underweight, socially awkward writer who watches Eastenders for the background music. I should probably rethink my priorities. Point is, if I hear a bit of Razorlight in the background as someone accuses someone else of being a backstabbing pig, I’ll appreciate it.
My favourite example of background music came back in June 2009. I was in La Paz in Bolivia, the “city in the crater,” and I was having a meal alone somewhere near the city centre. It was a semi-busy restaurant, walls dotted with miscellaneous pictures and topographical maps of South America, quite dark with dim wall-lighting and candles on the tables; the couples at the other tables told me it was quite a romantic set up but when your only companion is the bottle of wine on the table in front of you, it’s hard to feel loved. And then “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles starts playing over the sound system; one of the saddest songs ever written. I ordered smoked salmon drizzled with lemon because I was feeling particularly frisky. I remember the music well because it was a Beatles playlist on loop. I must’ve listened to those eight or ten songs about five times apiece by the time I left there. It was wonderful. There was something surreal about hearing those songs that are so entrenched in my home culture in a place so incredibly far removed from England.
I’m not going to tie this post in to some grand point about focusing on the smaller, often unnoticed details in life that make a moment really special, although I could if I wanted; I just think background music is grand and helps me remember moments that would otherwise be entirely unforgettable. Think about it next time you’re in a restaurant. And if their music is terrible, walk right on out of there and into a sunset/torrential downpour, depending on where you are.
“For one, unlimited salad turns me on better than a lesbian bubble bath in a college dorm.”
“I ordered smoked salmon drizzled with lemon because I was feeling particularly frisky.”
I love you for these sentences.