14 Jan How we live today: Black Sabbath, The Death of Muzak, and Why they Took my Trash Can Away

While shopping for grapefruit in Safeway this morning, I was surprised to hear — drifting from speakers in the ceiling — Black Sabbath’s “paranoid.” Not a copy of the Goth heavy metal hit. No, ma’am, the original, with manic Ozzy Osbourne shouting, “People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time!”

If you came of age before, say, 1985, you should find this astonishing. Remember the grocery store of your mother’s day? For those of you too young to remember, Muzak was the only offering in public places. It was all instrumental copies of the hits, usually done in syrupy violin orchestrations. If there was guitar, it was cleaned up and toned down, the palest version of the original, sounding like granddad’s idea of “sexy.” Oh man, it made for painful listening! Whenever I found myself within earshot of Muzak, I felt tormented and I think I better understood how much pain the mentally impaired suffer when they hear hateful voices in their heads.

Muzak, and its imitators, served corporate America and illustrated a disdain for popular taste. Truly, it was insulting to hear what they did to the music. It’s analogous to a corporation taking over the National Parks and killing, then stuffing all of the animals and doing it badly, and then setting up those badly stuffed animals in the forest for the tourists to view—and claiming that this is THE wildlife experience.

No doubt, other youngsters like me vowed to change Muzak when they got old enough to make a difference. The result is that, for years, I’ve been hearing — in grocery and department stores — music I like. Real music performed by the original artists. But not until today had I heard Ozzy Osbourne. So the world changes. That old heavy metal has got some rust on it, so why not? Soon, we’ll be hearing post-thrash hip-hop with all the f**ks and c**ts bleeped out.

If you’re lucky, getting older is about staying flexible. I’m a lot more relaxed than I was at twenty,  mainly because I have a better take on what can and cannot go wrong and, really, most things aren’t as bad they may seem at first glance. This week, for example, I returned to work after the holiday break only to discover that my bosses had removed all of the garbage pails from our offices. Cut backs. The absence of trash pails saves the janitorial staff from having to open all of those offices to retrieve all of that garbage. My secretary said, “Just think of the exercise you’ll get walking to the trash can down the hall!”

Those of us who remember the luxury of having a trash pail right there beside our desks – we will be replaced, in time, by those who never had the luxury. That’s how the world changes. All those people who thought Muzak was a great idea, well, they’re dead and gone, probably. And maybe right now, some kid is walking through a grocery store and squinting up in distaste at the music he hears spilling from the ceiling speaker: “What is that heavy metal garbage?” he’s asking. “Man, you must be joking!”