On a recent Monday night (after a long WW press day), all I really wanted was a burger. So I wandered blurry-eyed into the Blue Moon (432 NW 21st Ave., 223-3184), intent on scarfing down a Captain Neon while reading and swilling a brewski. I didn't really think about how music would play into things, but I'm sure I subconsciously opted for the Moon over, say, Wimpy's (a personal fave) because I wanted enough light and quiet to focus on what I was reading at the time (Steinbeck's Travels with Charley). Mostly, I was just looking for a relatively peaceful place to relax for a while after work.
Turns out, it wasn't the music's volume I should have been concerned with, but its effect on the bar's atmosphere. After sitting with the menu for a few minutes and being hammered with some loud, aggressive rock (something along the lines of such nu-rockers as, say, Puddle of Mudd), I got up and left. Now, I don't really care that my taste and a Blue Moon employee's don't match up, but I was surprised said employee was playing his or her own music at all. As an ex-McMenamins employee (yeah, me too), I'm pretty familiar with the company's music, er, Muzak policy—basically, that employees are only supposed to play pre-programmed tunes from "family-friendly," McMenamins-approved playlists (which, to my horror, meant hearing Rob Thomas' "Smooth" about 10 times per shift).
The point of this is not to whine about McMenamins, which, according to pub COO Lars Raleigh, switched to Muzak for system reliablity, volume stability and variety: "We don't select from 'canned' music mixes," explains Raleigh. "We choose every song that gets put into the program." But the whole experience made me wonder if I care more about hearing music I like than about employee freedom. Was I turning into exactly the kind of customer Muzak is supposed to coddle?
Back when I was breaking the rules myself—playing "unapproved" Wilco or Built to Spill albums at the Bagdad—I'm pretty sure I didn't care what the customer wanted to hear. And I bet that Blue Moon employee doesn't either. After all, the employee has to endure whatever's playing for a whole shift, while customers are free to frequent whatever businesses they want (or leave, as I did). Of course, it's easy to see why (moolah!) McMenamins would opt for consumer-friendly material over whatever the kids are listening to these days.
While I ate a Wimpy burger later on, my eyes may have strained a bit more to see Steinbeck's prose, but the only distracting thing about the bartender's musical choices was my wondering, Damn, this is cool. Wonder what she's playing. At first, I was annoyed at having to leave the Blue Moon and its crappy tunes, but I later realized that personality, even if it's Puddle of Mudd-loving, is better than none at all.