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Columns > Patrick Buzby

Published: 2004/01/27
by Pat Buzby

Music for Offices

No one told me a lot about dealing with the working
world while I was in school, or perhaps I didn’t
listen enough. In any case, while some people I know
have trouble with the idea of not having a meaningful
job, so far I have been okay with doing something
not-so-meaningful for 36-40 hours a week and devoting
the rest of my time to the meaningful stuff (playing,
promoting and writing about music).
One thing that makes this easier is the nature of
many of these jobs. There are a couple of questions I
would enjoy being able to ask in a job interview:
whether one can do personal e-mail at the job and
whether one can listen to music. I don’t know whether
this is specific to me or a common phenomenon, but a
few medical insurance companies and the like have done
a lot to help me feed my musical enthusiasms while I
have served their needs at the same time. I remember
bringing the Dead 7/2/71 tapes to work on my second
day at a job where the supervisor had announced that
Walkmans were permissible, and thus began a trend that
lasted from ’98 to ’02 for me.
Most of these jobs have just been computer work, but
a few have also involved answering the phone. On a
good day, the phone calls would come just as Jerry had
arrived at the verse of "Dark Star" or some such
juncture – other days, sales reps would cut into an
inspired 5-minute Zappa guitar solo three times or
more. I remember making the determination early on
that jazz wouldn’t work in the office because it
required too much concentration (although I remember
one coworker playing late Coltrane stuff out loud at
his desk, probably just to bug people), but Dead or
Phish show tapes fit nicely since they were 90%
redundant material, but with enough in that extra 10%
to make them worth a listen. (Besides, I had had some
of them for years anyway, and actually having time to
listen to them felt nice. What do other people do
with those 19-song first sets from 1972?)
It wasn’t only concert stuff which I played in the
office, though. Most of these jobs were in Chicago’s
Loop, and there was a Tower conveniently placed nearby
so that I could hit it for a lunch-break impulse buy
and have something new to discover in the afternoon.
There are a few discs in my collection, mostly pop or
folk type things, which I don’t think I’ve ever played
outside the office (and a few that didn’t get played
for long in the office – somehow I found myself with
both of the first two moe. Warts & All volumes but
never became a fan). I remember that Bob Dylan’s Love
and Theft was one release-day purchase I had planned,
but the release date in question (9/11/01) fouled
things up. (Sitting around after I’d been sent home
that day, I debated going out for it, but decided that
it wasn’t worth the risk even though I knew the
terrorists would most likely not bother attacking Hyde
Park. It made me feel good that my brief assignment
at the Sears Tower had come and gone a year earlier.)
Office work contributed a few other things to my
life, including following NPR (after a while, those
CDs wore thin and I needed something capable of
surprising me) and developing a coffee habit, but, for
good or ill, this reconfiguration of my listening
habits is something that it took a while to undo when
my office days ended. (I remember, in fact, being in
the middle of the Mike’s Groove from the 10/31/98 Live
Phish when I got asked to speak to an HR woman and
learned of my being laid off.)
Now I have traded in data entry for
inbound-call-center work, and the only job-related
music listening I get done is in the car on the way
out to the burbs where the office is situated. I can,
however, read on the job, so between phone calls I
work my way (sometimes a paragraph or less at a time)
through issues of Atlantic Monthly or the New Yorker
that my girlfriend lends me. For now, it works.
Quite well.

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