The world was shocked yesterday when it was announced that David Bowie, at age 69, has passed away after
a fight with cancer. Since David Bowie managed to keep his private life well away from his public one this surpised most people and Social Media, radio and TV were all covered with memories and tributes to the musician.
By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of stories, plenty of memories of concerts, plenty of Social Media memes about Bowie, and we didn’t want to just pile on more of the same. But David Bowie’s music was very important to the store: let me explain.
When I opened this store, one of the great features of the building we are in is that it has a great stereo system built in. Speakers were pre-built into the ceiling on both floors and all that was needed was a tuner and a CD player (later replaced with an iPort).
The issue I faced, however: was what to play over the stereo system? I wanted to evoke a ‘feel’ for the store when customers entered it. Early on I made decisions such as never wanting to play Christmas music in the store during the holidays as it would drive me nuts, let alone my employees. But I still had to build a library of music to play and had only my own collection and whatever I could aquire on short notice.
Early decision seemed easy: I added lots of what would be called ‘New Age’ music but actually was more space-y that that. Musicians such as Vangelis, Jean-Michelle Jarre, and Tangerine Dream all were in the early playlists, and a few other bits went in. I noticed that there was a problem.
The music was too ‘ethereal’. I was going for that mood but it was too much soft insutrmentations. I needed something to break it up, or me and my employees were going to be a musical haze after a couple of hours of this stuff. But I couldn’t just throw anything out there. Most of my rock collection was not appropriate (only 1 Pixies song fits the theme I was going for, for example). I could add a few oddball pieces here and there, but I needed to have something that was more recognizable to the average customer.
I could have gone with some more oldies stuff – geting some Beatles music or Rolling Stones but that didn’t work. They both had tones that just didn’t fit and got too ‘intrusive’, plus I didn’t want the store to sound like an oldies station. I also couldn’t pick a bunch of stuff that might be unpopular with customers.
So what worked? I had some of the more recent David Bowie compelations (Bowie released a lot of compilation albums). The music on them fit pefectly.
Bowie’s music, even at its harshest, still had an odd otherworldly quality to it (his late-90’s work such as ‘Outside’ notwithstanding), and it was unviersally recognized and appreciated without being outright nostalgia food. Honestly I can’t think of anyone who outright hates Bowie’s music. Maybe they didn’t like it but no-one actually hated it unlike earlier British invasion bands. Songs like ‘Man Who Sold the World’ , ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Life on Mars’ all fit the theme of a science store selling telescopes, astronomy items and the like, the rest of his singles fit in well enough to break up the instrumental pieces without intruding into a customer’s head.
When describing the music I would play in the store I would give the elevator pitch of “New Age instrumental music, with some David Bowie thrown into to keep our brains from turning into mush”. This wasn’t perfectly accurate as I had a few other pieces on there as well but none would be so familiar as Bowie’s music.
The epitome of the Bowie music in the store was summed up one day on a Sunday when some college students form St Joseph’s University walked into the store. They had arrived just as “Space Oddity” had come up in the music rotation so after walking in and being impressed with our displays of excellent science toys one of the male students noted that the music that was playing “Space Oddity, perfect!”. As the students continued into the store one of the female students stayedcloser to the door, looked up at the speakers, then over at me with a suspicious expression and asked “Is that song always playing?”
R.I.P David Bowie, you truly will be missed.