She was determined to have the song removed from all 204 of the grocery chain’s stores. And that is where I drew the line.
I wrestled with the words that I would say as I took a detour from my normal route home and headed to her house. This was definitely not something that I could do over the phone.
“Hi, come on in,” she said pleasantly.
Once inside I settled into a chair and she handed me a copy of the letter that she had composed to (REDACTED)’s corporate office before taking her favorite seat opposite me while I read:
To Whom it may concern:
Enclosed is a copy of a letter-to-the-editor which appeared in our local newspaper May 23, 2017. Your store in the (REDACTED) in Lancaster, PA is the store mentioned in the letter. I’m now writing to your corporate office to ask for your careful/responsible consideration regarding the selection of music played in all of your stores.
In a public place of business such as (REDACTED), creating a certain atmosphere through music could make it a pleasure for a customer to shop there. Or, the music could be simply offensive and create an environment that makes the customer want to run from the store and avoid shopping there altogether. The latter was my experience.
So, what do I want your corporate office to do?
First, to stop playing “Possum Kingdom” by the Toadies in any (REDACTED) store now.
Second, that (REDACTED) makes an immediate and serious review of their current music selection process, weed out any other songs with similarly offensive lyrics, and use a common-sense approach to add songs that everyone can enjoy.
Lastly, for corporate to implement their revised music list in all stores promptly.
In taking these steps, (REDACTED) customers will be treated with dignity and shown respect. This atmosphere will communicate that they are valued and will motivate them to shop and continue to shop at (REDACTED) stores everywhere. You will make a positive difference in the community and show that (REDACTED) really does care about their customers.
I look forward to your response, sharing your thoughts and intentions.
As words sunk in, the anger that I felt earlier multiplied.
“What gives you the right to do this?” I asked without thinking.
“What do you mean?”
“What gives you the right to decide what everyone else get’s to hear while they’re shopping?”
“Well, I have to listen to it, too.”
“No, you don’t. There are ten other grocery stores within roughly the same radius from here. Five of them are actually closer.”
“That’s not fair to me.”
“That doesn’t even make sense! You have a choice: shop there or don’t. You imposing your will on everyone else’s music options without them knowing about it takes away their freedom without them even having the chance to be heard.”
“If they want to listen to offensive music they can wear headphones.”
“Yeah, cause that will make grocery shopping faster and easier for everyone. Who judges whether or not a song is offensive?”
“It’s common sense, it …”
“Art is subjective,” I said cutting her off, “there is no such thing as common sense when it comes to music. I don’t care if I ever hear ‘Possum Kingdom’ again, but I want everyone that likes the song, and there are many, to be able to hear it. I guarantee you that if your little movement here gets any momentum it can only end in one way – with a silent grocery store – because no company is going to spend money on a song approval committee. Congratulations, you just took away all of the music.”
“Hearing ‘DO YOU WANT TO DIE’ screamed at you over and over again is not healthy …”
“… especially for people on the edge, I’m trying to help!”
“No, you’re not. First off, taking something away from people that did nothing wrong isn’t helping anyone. If you were really trying to help, you would take advantage of the free education programs for seniors, get a counseling certificate, and use your time and experience to actually make a difference in someone’s life, not censor music that you don’t like.”
I swallowed hard, adrenaline pumping.
“Second, if someone is so mentally ill that hearing a song ONCE could trigger them to commit violence against themselves or others, they are incapable of thinking or acting logically. The odds are equal that the song could be ‘Kill The Poor’ by The Dead Kennedys or ‘Build Me Buttercup’ by The Foundations.”
SIDEBAR: Maybe mom’s right about causality. I just had the urge to take a picture of my junk and send it to an employee of the New York Jets.
I noticed that she was looking through me, barely listening, but I forged ahead …
“Whether you want to believe or not, there is no scientific proof that anything short of a sustained, steady diet of violent media alters brain activity.”
She was studying me intently. I thought she was about to relent, admit her grievous error and ask for advice on how to fix it.
“Is this because you’re a straight white man?”
Wow … I read that wrong.
And so did she.
TO BE CONTINUED …
Tony Marion is a writer and filmmaker who splits time between Lancaster, PA and Baltimore, MD. He lives for the work of Descendents (the band), Chuck Palahniuk and Rian Johnson. Check out the digital embodiment of procrastination he calls his website here.