I’ve had experiences recently working in offices that have made me think about the state of our American consumer society. Let me preface all this by saying that I’m a capitalist. I have no problem working for a living, I have no problem with other people making crap and trying to sell it to me. The specific crap they make and the ways in which they try to sell it to me are another matter.
When I was working for the Large Soulless Corporation I worked in an ugly gray cubicle in an ugly gray office with no closet. There was no place to put my coat and I hate sitting on my coat all day so I went in search of one of those things that hooks over your cubicle wall and gives you a hook on which to hang your coat. Thinking that this would be something an office supply store would have I made the rounds of the local big box office supply stores. None of them had this relatively simple and inexpensive thing in their stores. They would be happy to sell it to me through their web site, forcing me to wait for it to be delivered and pay for the privilege of waiting for it to be delivered. Or I could order it online for in-store pickup in a day or two. But there was no way to just walk into a store and walk out with what I wanted.
In my new job with an elementary school district my office is in an unused classroom which also lacks a closet, since the kids all have lockers. The walls are concrete block so it’s difficult to put a hook into the wall to hold your coat. So I went looking for a coat rack. There aren’t any furniture stores near my house so I started visiting the local big box stores like Target, KMart, and Wal*Mart (even though Wal*Mart is evil). Once again such a simple and seemingly common object was only available through the stores’ web sites.
The retail landscape has changed radically in the last decade or two. You used to be able to go to a locally-owned store near your home and buy stuff. You might need to check a couple of stores or perhaps call around to find a store that had what you wanted. But you could usually walk into a nearby store and walk out with what you wanted. Then the big box stores started opening up on the outskirts of town, offering everything you could possibly want at incredibly low prices. People started shopping there even if the location was inconvenient and the service substandard compared to the local shop, and the local shops fell on hard times. Now the big box stores don’t want to stock anything except the highest-volume items and you can’t just walk into a store and walk out with a simple utilitarian item. Now you get that stuff on the internet, where there is no customer service at all, and those simple items aren’t quite so cheap after you pay for shipping.
Maybe I’m just a cranky old man, but I don’t think this is exactly progress. Anyway, here are some songs that kinda sorta are related to this week’s rant. And get off my lawn you damn kids!
The Torero Band “Can’t Buy Me Love” (The Beatles)
Money can’t buy me love but it can buy me someplace to hang my coat, if I’m willing to buy it online. Are coat racks completely out of fashion nowadays? Do people not wear coats? Do they just throw them on the floor instead of hanging them up? It makes me wonder how somebody without internet access buys a coat rack in this day and age. I don’t think we’re quite at the point where everybody is wired yet.
This is from a wonderful album of cheeseball mariachi Beatles covers. It’s long been a favorite of mine.
Mark Ronson “Pretty Green” (The Jam)
The frustrating thing is that I had my pocket full of pretty green and I wanted to give it to the man behind the counter but he didn’t have food and water to sell me. But listening to this polyrhythmic take on the Jam’s jaundiced view of consumer society takes some of the edge off.
General Store “Hold Me Now” (Thompson Twins)
Having grown up in a big city during the second half of the 20th century I’ve never seen a real live general store like they had on Green Acres. I don’t know if they exist anywhere anymore or if Wal*Mart has killed them all off.
Regardless of all that, this General Store does a really nice job on this 80s chestnut. I pretty much like any song with a pedal steel guitar and an accordion.
Clara Luzia “It’s A Sin” (Pet Shop Boys)
There’s a little pet shop a couple of blocks from my house that hasn’t been put out of business by Petco. I think it’s because he specializes in selling snakes, lizards, and the critters you feed to them. It looks like a good niche to be in.
This song sounds much more organic than the original, which I realize isn’t that difficult. But it does sound very good to me.
Petty Booka “Lost In The Supermarket” (The Clash)
Whenever I start turning into a cranky old man I listen to my favorite adorable Japanese duo. Petty Booka usually plays Chicago as part of a package tour of Japanese bands in the spring, as they work their way north after South By Southwest in Austin. I haven’t seen them play live in a couple of years so I’m hoping that they’ll be back again this year.