I was in Supervalu again this morning (OK, it’s superfluous to say again I know) and although you might think I am exaggerating to say it, it was for me just like a taste of being in hell. Admittedly I wasn’t in the best of form anyway. I am never in the best of form first thing Saturday morning – well, I am never in the best form anytime Saturday morning, come to think of it. I woke up as I always do amongst the disorganization and detritus and general squalor of what passes for my life with the dazed feeling of someone who has found themselves in a place without really knowing how they got there, or why. To say that I was far from feeling full of the joys of life doesn’t come close to describing my inner state. It would be better to say that I was full of a sense of a numbing, all-pervasive existential fatigue; full, one might say, of a sense of the absolute crippling pointlessness and relentless meaninglessness of my whole wretched humdrum existence.
Anyway, that is not what I wanted to talk about. I resolved on this occasion – as I always do – to bite the bullet and drive the few miles to Supervalu by way of making a bit of a full-frontal assault on the day. By this minor act of courage I hoped to swing things – however infinitesimally – in my favour and thus give myself a slightly better chance of getting through the weekend with my will-to-live still reasonably intact. That was the theory anyway. Besides which, it has become over the last year a kind of a ritual for me – the ritual visit to my local Supervalu.
So I drove to Supervalu as I always do, found myself a trolley and set of on my round of the aisles. For a while it didn’t hit me. I was walking listlessly around the aisles, trying to focus on what I needed to buy (milk, nectarines, white sliced pan, marmalade, cat food, Clingfilm, tins of sardines) and all the while something was seriously bugging me. I was feeling somehow afflicted and demoralized. Then it came to me in a rush – I suddenly noticed what up to this point I hadn’t really being paying any conscious attention to. Now I could see the thing that was making me feel so bad. It was the awful horrible diabolical ‘shyte-for-brains’ pop-music that they are always playing. This is what I really want to talk about. I don’t know if my local Supervalu is any worse than any other Supervalu in this respect – they all do this, they all play awful pop music all of the time, with never a thought to how they might be making people suffer. It’s just a thing they do. God knows why. I fancy somehow that the Supervalu where I go is somehow a shade worse than the others. I can’t imagine why this should be so but it is a fact that for the last year or so that I have been going there I have been entertaining the notion that there is something especially bad, especially dire, about the music they play in this godforsaken hole of a place.
What had been at one time a mere fancy that played about at the very corner of my mind has now turned into a stubborn conviction – I know there is something in it, no matter how crazy it sounds. It had occurred to me that there is an actual policy – common to all supermarkets probably – to play particularly crappy music in order have a particular psychological effect on the unfortunate customers. Maybe some psychologist somewhere has worked out that if you play crap music to people they are more likely to buy crap! I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that commercial entities, businesses, multinationals etc never do anything without some sort of reason, without some sort of ‘profit-motive’. They don’t pay their tame shit-sucking psychologists for nothing, either! But maybe they had somewhere overstepped the mark. They could have gone too far and unwittingly drawn attention to their strategy by being too keen. This is the idea that has been preying on my mind in recent months. That they’ve made it just a little bit too obvious…
I know every well that in other Supervalus – the one in Moycullen for example – I was always aware that they played the very worst of the worst of what is called ‘popular music’ but it still wasn’t ever bad enough for it to ‘get to me’ as it was doing on this particular morning. Beforehand I could smell a rat, but now the bloody thing was attacking me head-on in broad daylight! The bastard thing was going for my throat. But to get back to my story. Up to now I had been feeling dull and vacant and somehow oppressed, but I hadn’t taken on board what was causing it. The realization that I had just had was that the music I was being forced to listen to was not just bad – it was so very bad that it was making me feel ill. Once you do notice the music then of course it just gets worse. It bugs you more and more. It sure bugged the fuck out me, anyway…
Whatever guidelines they follow obviously stipulate that only a certain sort of maximally bland and stereotypical type of music is to be played – the real plastic, empty, trashy sort, the sort that you would think no one in their right mind would ever deliberately set out to listen to. Never mind buy. Pop music as a whole is of course notoriously banal and shallow – that’s what makes it pop music. OK, so I hate pop music. I freely admit that. Why would I feel bad about that? But what I am talking about here goes far beyond the sort of obnoxious clichéd superficiality that I have over the years learned to loathe – what I am talking about here is your standard ubiquitous empty and offensively clichéd pop music that has somehow been distilled into a pure essence of grotesque and ghastly nastiness.
Even my daughter won’t set foot in the place, for that express reason, and she’s a teenager for God’s sake! She’s always listening to awful music. Like Tool, and System of a Down and Megadeath and dumbass crap like that. She refuses point blank to go in the supermarket in question because she says it depresses her, which is weird in itself because I always thought teenagers liked being depressed. Isn’t that the whole idea of being a teenager?
The pop music they choose to play in my local Supervalu (and I shudder to think that someone actually chooses it) is the pick of the crop, the direst of the dire, the blandest of the bland. It is so crass and empty that I can’t help thinking that it must be some sort of joke, some sort of tremendous irony. No conscious human being would want to subject themselves to this stuff. Song after song after song, each one more creepily superficial than the last. And yet my fellow shoppers walk around apparently oblivious to the horror; no one seems to be suffering the torment apart from me. I remember a man I once met in the psychiatric day hospital in Galway. This was a good few years ago. I can’t remember how the conversation started but he ended up confiding in me about an idea he had gotten into his head. The idea in question was that all the pop radio stations, and all the wretched DJ’s that they have on them, are all part of a global conspiracy to destroy people’s minds. The reason all the adverts and the songs and – worst of all, the DJ’s – are so awful is no accident but a part of cold-blooded plan. I must say that what the man was telling me rang true. Surely nobody would keep on playing the sort of brain-killing drivel that they do play on these stations without some sort of an ulterior motive? OK – so anyone can play a few bum songs every now and again by accident, even hire a bum disc jockey or two once in a while, but this was across the board. This was relentless. They simply never let up and I can see – ten years later – that that don’t have any intention of letting up. The onslaught that they call ‘modern culture’ never ends.
I remember thinking at the time, “Bloody hell – he’s probably dead right…” But what gets me to this day is why he was the only one who twigged it. Poor bastard – what a fate! To be the only one to see what was going on. A lone voice crying out in the wilderness. A prophet on Prozac. A seer on Seroquel. All those smug doctors with their bloody diagnostic and statistical manuals and their bloody day hospital – what the hell did they know anyway? There is something very spooky about the way that ‘the man in the street’ seems so damn oblivious to everything. Like all my fellow shoppers in Supervalu, happily pushing their trolleys up and down the aisles. I stood still and surveyed them, not knowing whether to feel concern for them or just hate them. On the whole I felt like hating them. It occurred to me that maybe they actually liked the music – it certainly didn’t seem to offend them in any way. Maybe it pleasantly enhanced their shopping experience.
For me it was a form of torture almost beyond endurance. I loathe the whole wretched music industry which in my view is damned beyond redemption for its part in producing this grotesque parody, this mockery of anything that could rightfully be called ‘music’. Though in all fairness they couldn’t do it without us – us compliant brain-dead happy-go-lucky ejits who dutifully listen to whatever third-rate crap is piped our way without ever thinking that someone somewhere is taking the piss out of us. It’s the same as television I realized. We’ll watch anything and learn to like it just like we’ll listen to anything and learn to like it. Perhaps the guy in the psychiatric hospital was right – maybe there is some sort of dark force that is taking over the world. It certainly looks like it! And perhaps one of the ways in which they are doing it is to numb people’s brains by constant unremitting exposure to the very lowest and most banal forms of ‘entertainment’.
It stands to reason that if you keep listening to (or watching) garbage it will ruin your brain. That’s pretty damn obvious really – after all, if you hang around with gobshytes you become a gobshyte yourself. You start to think it’s normal. In fact you start to think that it’s good, you start to laugh at their jokes and secretly think that you must be a great guy because you’re hanging around with such great dudes. That the way it works. That’s the way it always has worked.
By listening to appalling crap like this, week after week, year after year, you can’t help being affected. When you listen to stuff that is utterly facile, utterly superficial, utterly lacking in any spark of originality or humour whatsoever then it stands to reason that you will become shallow and unoriginal too, just like the music. If you are what you eat then it must be true that you are what you listen to. And then, it occurred to me, once you do become shallow and clichéd like the music you will not be able to see that it is shallow and clichéd. Banality starts to appear as profundity, clichés appear as sparkling wit. That’s how the bloody DJ’s do it, I realized. That’s why the incessant bland patter of those sickeningly moronic DJ’s appears inspired, original, entertaining. That’s why people unaccountably think they’re so great. You might as well think that a dog turd walked all over the pavement was a sublime work of art…
I suddenly had an insight into the whole malign process. For a split second I could see it all clearly and it shook me to the core. Once the process sets in, I realized, then there is no checking it. After all, who is there to see what is going on? There is nothing to stop us carrying on sliding downhill down the ‘idiot slope’, getting dumber and dumber and shallower and shallower and more and more obnoxious as we go. That’s probably what happened to the Americans – the poor bloody bastards. And they think they’re so great. They think that they are the pinnacle of human evolution, the pinnacle of civilization. With their bloody Country and Western music and their ‘Desperate Housewives’. Is that what awaits us?
People used to think that we might all blow ourselves up I mused to myself – people used to think that that was the doom which hung over our heads. Compared to the scenario which had just unfolded itself in my mind a nuclear holocaust would be a merciful release. There would at least be some dignity in it. I could see now that the fate which stared us in the face (if we weren’t already too stupid to see it) was infinitely worse than annihilation due to hydrogen bombs or nerve gas or biological warfare. I shook my head in wry amusement – those guys back in the sixties really had no imagination. They hadn’t a clue. Its wasn’t the annihilation of the world due to H-bombs they should have been writing science-fiction stories about but the annihilation of our minds by DJ’s, TV and bad pop songs. Rather than going out with a bang, the human race was going to go out with a… a what? I tried to think of something neat to say there but I couldn’t. Nothing came to me. My brain was flat, lacking in anything inspirational. I paid for my stuff at the checkout and left. Thank god I was out of there. I walked slowly out into the car park and the waiting rain. I wouldn’t be going back there in a hurry if I could help it. At least, not until next Saturday came around…