The aromatherapist wore jackboots

Don’t ask why, but last week I found myself in a position of having to construct a 3-hour playlist of new age music.
I have issues with new age music. It’s one of two genres of music I had decided it was fair to universally declaim. Hearing one example of new age music was the same as hearing all of it, and I never enjoyed hearing any of it. The other genre used to be jazz fusion, but upon hearing Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and re-evaluating Weather Report more favorably, I’ve been forced to take that genre off the list. So now, new age music is pretty much the only genre I’m game to say has never produced a single unit of worthwhile product.

It’s exclusively functional. It’s not an expression of the soul, unless the souls in question spend their entire lives avoiding sriracha sauce and conflict. It programs entire environments. You could say the same about ambient music, but I like certain ambient music. Ambient is not aggressively trying to program you, or forcing its aesthetics on you, it’s just trying to get you through this red-eye flight when alcohol might not be the best option.

New age music is up to something. There’s an insidious plot. The first part is luring you into relaxation. They establish a range of frequencies permissible to dwell, and thereby create a point of frequency transgression, where certain sounds become bad. Ambient music has an effect. New age music, I believe, has the goal of a non-effect. Rather aggressively so. It’s meant to neutralize your entire being by creating a fairyland. Then you’re in that fairyland, and you see all sorts of mythical creatures, the unicorn of which is (rather predictably) king. And when that happens, as you’ve been lured into creamy fantasy, who knows what kind of deviousness they can force upon you? They could figure out a way to make you compliant to your ponytail-havin’ project manager, or make you weave hemp into socks, or make you order something off eBay.

You don’t do anything to new age music. You can’t perform any real activity to it. Carpentry with balsa wood or clipping bonsai trees maybe, but that’s about it. You can’t dance. You shouldn’t drive. You can’t aerobicize. It just reminds you that there’s something else in the room. It’s not a motivator, it’s a bookmark.

Oh, sure, you can have sex to it. And I bet there are some shamans out there who have figured out how to have semi-realistic sex to new age music. But I bet it’s the kind of sex you have to be a quasi-religious figure to have. Tantra looks fun and all, but I’m not the person to engage in it. I can’t be like Sting and stay that focused for six days. I’d need a bagel at some point. I bet having sex to new age music helps it feel more instinctual, less animalistic. You could focus on the erogenous force fields and gyrate in degrees of millimeters. You could, but would not be required to, see God. And you would end the act bathing in a warm glow of amber light, both of you sharing the ecstasy in equally rationed amounts between the two of you, and you would be able to qualify and alphabetize the tingles you experience. That’s great. But I can get the same experience screwing to Devo.

What’s also annoying about new age music is that it’s so easy that almost anyone can make it. It’s like punk in that respect, except desensitized, and unlike the best punk, sucky. But just follow the strict sonic rules of new age music, put some D-batteries in your Casio, and guess what? You could very easily be a new age musician, and ergo a cub scout social engineer. It scares me that all of us are just a set of wind chimes and a spacebag of chardonnay away from healing leprosy through song.

When I lived in San Francisco I came up with a very cynical, comic plan to record a new age album for money with my girlfriend at the time. We jokingly called it Crystal Reflections In The Light. I’m not sure I’m not sorry we didn’t see that project through. We could’ve made it in a day. We could’ve made it in half a day. We’d have paid for our children’s college, or ashrams. Then we could laugh heartily and order the General Tso chicken we’d been craving all day.

So, to sum up, new age music has been pretty worthless to me. I’m not a fan. I don’t know anybody who is. I figure if I did meet someone who described himself or herself as a “fan of new age music,” then we probably wouldn’t be hanging out together. We’re probably going to go to different places to get our transcendentalism fix. Mine happens to have pinball machines. His probably prohibits any kind of centrifugal force whatsoever.

Nevertheless, there I was last week, having to program three hours of new age to a captive audience who will supposedly make a conscious decision to listen to the “new age channel” I was working on. I had to put myself in the position of a “new age fan.” I had to think how “new age fans” thought. I had to seek out what I thought was the best compliment to the “new age lifestyle.”

It was a bit terrifying. ‘Cause I figured, if I got it wrong, if I transgressed the boundaries of new age music, then I would’ve caught some serious Birkenstock hell. I would’ve been drawn and quartered, with utmost politeness, by the New Age Army. I needed to get this one right, because if I disrupted the psychic flow of a new age fan mid-flight, it would be like ripping a hole in the ceiling of their headspace, which if you’re flying Southwest is kind of redundant.

New age fans do not seem like people who appreciate challenge. So my challenge was to come up with as unchallenging a lineup of songs as possible. But first I had to find out who pimps this stuff, so I found a list of “notable new age artists” on the web. Strictly speaking, it was the Yahoo! new age artist search directory, because each list item had these numbers in parentheses that told you how many fan pages each artist has. So, big number, massive new age artist, right? Enya’s kind of like the Elvis of new age music. Yanni is closer to Frankie Avalon.

Then I had to sample each song I programmed. That was where the hell of the act set in. I found a song by Kitaro and skipped around – nope. There was an electric guitar in the middle of it that hadn’t been undistorted. That could cause leakage. Had to skip it. Went for some Mannheim Steamroller – no, no, those drums were too prominent. Went for someone on the Windham Hill label – not bad, but the upper frequencies on that guitar line tweaked ever so intrusively that I was afraid I might jostle someone’s cranium just a little too much. Every time I found a song that seemed to fit, something would happen that I perceived to be a potential slight against the new age code. High frequencies, low frequencies that are too loud, an out-of-phase ocean wave, a detuned synthetic bell sound, Linda Blair throwing up, birds that were supposed to be mating but clearly sounded like they were arguing, a percussion instrument that sounded too ethnic for new age, a bad rainstorm, goats. Every time I ran into an offending sound wave, I got furious with it. I swore. I got impatient. I got disoriented and frazzled. I felt the deadline on my back and I felt myself getting more and more nervous, biting my nails, clenching my teeth.

And I thought this crap music was supposed to be relaxing.

But I finished it. And the good news is that it didn’t take that much longer than other genres would, because new age songs go on for nine minutes, and it takes less of them to fill a three-hour time span. And that’s great, because I think if there’s one thing we need less of, it’s new age music. I think even that hippie dentist with the hemp lollipops would agree. Or he better, or else I’ll clock ‘im.

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