On The Job: A Double Inquiry

by Andrew Patterson

The ideas that prompted me to start this blog came all at once; surely they’d been bubbling under for quite sometime, but all in a chain, instances and ideas began to knot themselves together. In a matter of weeks, I had jotted down some beautiful moments that occurred in my life relating to or dependent upon music in one way or another. I took my scribblings and prettied them up for the internet (added hyperlinks and retrospective musings). And then I felt a lull: a sort of ‘Huh… What now?’. I became worried that I’d have nothing to write about. I really wanted to focus on moments of uncontrolled serendipity and avoid writing about a  self-indulgent scenario. I wanted to avoid posting the equivalent of ‘Last night, I put on the perfect song. It’s the best. I’m the best. I get it.’ or a similar fit of narcissism. Well, skeptics beware, I’m afraid I can avoid it no longer. This post flirts with that sentiment:

Today was a beautiful, crisp, blue winter’s day. The sun shone and the air was cold enough to feel like winter, but warm enough to warrant smiles from a handful of strangers as I strolled to work this morning (for those unawares, I wait tables at a restaurant). The positive vibrations carried on through the day, into the lunch rush and swiftly followed me back home. I think everyone felt grateful for such bliss in early February.

The restaurant opens at 11am. Setting up this morning, I was listening to the cheerful, bouncy sounds of Sir Victor Uwaifo, a Nigerian guitar superstar. At about quarter after, the first few tables trickled in. The music had stopped as they came in and I felt obliged to greet the customers, pour them water and finish writing the daily special sign before I got a chance to put something else on.

I should say that, for most of my working life, I’ve been fortunate enough to work at jobs that allow me freedom of the stereo and this job is no exception. I work the floor mostly by myself and therefor, have reign over the ears of our valued patrons. That being said, quite a low percentage of the general public ever comment on the music that gets played in restaurants or cafes (even working in a record shop, the acknowledgement is nearly non-existant), unless it is the dreaded ‘Can you turn that down?’.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Jim O’Rourke and decided to put on his album Eureka, a record that took me a few listens over several years to really appreciate, aside from the opening track, an epically inverted feminist anthem, and his snappy Burt Bacharach cover:


As O’Rourke’s deceptively lite-pop seeped into the room, a woman who was out dining with her parents piped up asked “Hey, what’s this music? I really like it.” I had a hard time pronouncing his last name and opted to write it down, and then handed her the paper. “Oh, O’Rooork” she said. “I’m going to pick this up.”

I was so pleased that someone took notice and appreciated. I also had an afterthought about the inevitable moment when she discovered the relatively unpleasant album cover. I imagined a look of genuine surprise come across her face when she found the hot pink strangeness (pictured in the Youtube video above) that dons the record of accessible pop songs. It’s a pairing I’ve always really admired O’Rourke for, regardless of what I thought of his music.

As the restaurant began to fill and the music ran out again, I decided I needed something to keep me moving and put on the only hip-hop album I would ever play in the restaurant: the under-appreciated, 2008 album The Renaisance by one of the greatest MCs ever, Q-Tip.

Lo and Behold:

“What is this album?” asked a young woman out dining with her husband.

“It’s a Q-Tip album from a few years ago.” I replied from over the counter.

“I’m really enjoying it. I’m so bad at keeping up on new music. What’s it called?” she asked.

“The Renaissance” I said.

“Oh, that’s perfect.” her husband interjected. “We love the Renaissance.”

Two inquiries in one day suggests to me that I had gotten it right today. The public’s ears were wide open and I had hit some kind of stride. I held the second woman to her offering to bring in a list of recommendations upon her return, and await it with great curiosity.