Such reflections are the product ofrna Hfe that has spanned two continentsrnand two eras. Looking back in a 1989rnessay for American Heritage on thernmonumental changes he has witnessed,rnLukacs claimed that he had hadrn”enough brushes with history” and thatrnhe did not wish for more. In the prefacernto this volume, however, he writes:rn”‘Enough for One Life?’ I am seventyrnnow, but 1 hope that God may still allowrnme a little more traveling, and perhapsrneven a brush with history now and thenrn. . . and a little more writing—because Irncan’t help it.” The reader of DestinationsrnPast can only share his hope.rnChristine Haynes is the assistant editorrnof Chronicles.rnTheme Fromrn^A Summer Place’rnbyf.O. TaternElevator Music: A Surreal Historyrnof Muzak, Easy-Listening, andrnOther Moodsongrnby Joseph LanzarnNew York: St. Martin’s Press;rn272 pp., $22.00rnThe products of mass culture are notrnautomatically to be sneered at, firstrnbecause of their massive presence andrnsecond because sometimes they have arncertain merit or are somehow amusing.rnThe Creature From the Black Lagoonrnmovies are still symbolically potent, andrnMcDonald’s has been known to dispensernthe best coffee that is easily available.rnBut the movie house (or the video store)rnand the burger joint are environments werncan choose or not choose. Some of thernmost insidious attacks by mass culturernare invasions that we can hardly escapernaltogether. The grunge rockers, after all,rnaren’t responsible for the vile backgroundrnmusic we try to ignore in overpricedrnrestaurants. That stuff is the work ofrnthe “grownies,” as 1 have heard themrncalled.rnEven in the dentist’s chair, the painrncaused by “background music” blots outrnany other. The sense of aesthetic, moral,rnand even political outrage is more powerfulrnthan routine unpleasantness.rnThough bad music is by definition boring,rnthat by no means implies that it isrnwithout significance, for the denial ofrnmeaning is itself meaningful. Nonbeingrnis the essential contemporary assertion.rnAnd in a queasy elevator in one of Mr.rnJohn Portman’s Babylonian atria, thernsmarmy totalitarianism implied by musicalrnmanipulativeness is so obnoxiousrnthat it overcomes any proprioceptivernanxieties or creeping acrophobia. Whornwants to . . . relax . . . in defiance of thernlaw of gravity, anyway? Americans havernembraced bad music just as they havernendorsed bad service, bad manners, badrnfood, bad architecture, bad art—badrneverything. Joseph Lanza’s survey of thernphenomenon of putrid music as an instrumentrnof social control rests uneasily,rnit seems to me, upon his failure to confrontrna contradiction that is not so muchrnhis personal fault as it is our nationalrnshortcoming.rnLanza’s book will not be the last wordrnon the topic, but it is a useful treatmentrnof one of the most disquieting of socialrnphenomena. The word “Muzak” is arnportmanteau of “music” and “Kodak,”rncoined by General George Owen Squier,rnwho pioneered modern communicationsrnfor the Army and AT&T. The multiplexrncable would wire the world and completernthe industrialization of music, asrnenvisioned by Bellamy, Zamyatin, I luxley,rnand Orwell in their passed-over butrnnot passe visions of the future—our pastrnand present. Lee de Forest, DavidrnSarnoff, and the rest played a part in thernmass culture of today, in which control isrndisguised as entertainment and evenrnfreedom, (“Stimulus Progression” is thernname of Muzak’s most elaborate program,rnwhich runs counter to the averagernworker’s “fatigue curve.”) Lanza seesrnobjections to the obtrusiveness of Muzakrnas a “pesky bugaboo . . . the notion thatrnpiped-in music somehow interferes withrnan individual’s right to privacy and evenrnbrainwashes listeners.” But if it does notrn”interfere” and “brainwash,” then whyrndo managers pay for the service? Becausernthey like the Ray Coniff Singers?rn1 think that Lanza is trying to establishrna postmodern view of bad music, somethingrnlike what Robert Venturi did withrnthe cheerfully sleazy architecture of LasrnVegas. We must admit that the phenomenonrnhe glosses is pervasive and historicallyrnrooted. Certainly he has maderna contribution to the study of industrialized,rnmass-produced dreadfulness, treatingrnas he does Annunzio Paolo Mantovani,rnthe 101 Strings, the Mystic MoodsrnOrchestra, Les Baxter, Martin Denny,rnthe Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestrarn(which became Lawrence Welk and hisrnChampagne Music Makers), and manyrnanother. But though he himself suppliesrnillustrations of the control thatrnMuzak sells, even to brothels and abattoirs,rnLanza himself endorses the feelgoodrnworld created by “easy listening”:rnElevator music (besides just beingrngood music) is essentially a distillationrnof the happiness that modernrntechnology has promised. Arnworld without elevator musicrnwould be much grimmer than itsrndetractors (and those who take itrnfor granted) could ever realize.rnThis is because most of us, in ourrnhearts, want a world tailored byrnWalt Disney “imagineers,” an ergonomicalrn”Main Street U.S.A.,”rnwhere the buildings never makernyou feel too small, where the actrnof paying admission is tantamountrnto a screen-test—and where thernmusic never stops.rnLanza has the numbers on his side.rnConsumerism and vulgarity have createdrna massive philistinism, one unanticipatedrnby Matthew Arnold, even thoughrnthat worthy knew what “doing as onernlikes” implies. To comprehend the immensityrnof the sickness, radical irony,rnshock tactics, and elitist standards arernrequired: Adorno’s essays, Nabokov’srnLoUta, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow—rnand George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead,rnwhich cauterizes vulgarity with emeticrnghoulishness: flesh-eating zombies staggeringrnto mall music.rnJust as vital creatures have no need ofrn”stimulation,” those clear of mind andrnconscience don’t need music for anesthesiarnbut for higher and more demandingrnreasons. The quicksand of Muzakrnabsorbed rock ‘n’ roll without so much asrna belch, just as it did “the classics,” provingrnits own power of gelatinous mindlessness.rnJoseph Lanza’s study is advocacyrninstead of criticism, confusing badrntaste with good and, what’s worse, softrntotalitarianism with the good life. But itrnhas its own documentary value and willrnprovide a basis for the transvaluation thatrnis desperately needed.rn/.O. Tate is a professor ofFMglish atrnDowling College on Long Island.rnSEPTEMBER 1994/35rnrnrn