The more attention I pay to the muzak in the background at various suburban stores, the more I've noticed sort of a subversive undercurrent to what is played. Along with the dubious standards like The Girl From Ipanema and Hotel California, they seem to be introducing covers of songs that could have (at least at one point) been called underground.

The first instance was a couple of years ago at Wal-Mart, where I heard Iron Man -- you know, the song by those crazy pigeon-eaters Black Sabbath -- being played on a slightly vibrato organ in the bathroom. I promise I'm not making this up, it was there, soft but unmistakable. A year or so later I was in a mid-scale yuppie restaurant, I don't remember where, and heard a cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. Yeah, off the same album that a large part of my generation lost its musical virginity to, being played with, if I recall correctly, saxophones, a brushed snare, and a vibraphone. What inspired me to write this was hearing a rendition of Venus in Furs coming out of the overhead speakers at a local Mexican restaurant about two weeks ago. Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather, indeed...

My theory is that somewhere along the muzak chain, above the barbiturate-drowsy drones who crank out the notes but below the faceless suits that collect the money, there is a snickering music lover working quietly but diligently to mutate the system from inside. I can see him now, sneaking in a "college town favorites" fakebook and copying the notes, transposing their key to be compatible with a synthesized string section. With any luck at all he or one of his apprentices will still be there in twenty years, creating drab but recognizable cover versions of Adam Beyer, Radiohead or maybe Aphex Twin.

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