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Instrumental May 9, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

No, not the snappy case in Slavonic languages. The version of songs. Without words. That establishments choose to play.

Does a restaurant need a licence to play music? If you’ve got a restaurant, say, with a CD player sitting nicely on a shelf somewhere, do you need to have permission, perhaps even from the artist themselves, if you want to stick on a CD of theirs? If, say, I had an Anglo-Russian restaurant, serving beans on buckwheat porridge – I’ve thought of a name and everything – and I wanted to pipe Madonna to the punters, would I actually have to write to Madge at her castle in whatever county it is and ask if she and her retinue would mind awfully if I numbed the punters’ senses with her choonz?

It’s a phenomenon I thought was over. It was all the rage in fast-food establishments in the UK in my youth. They’d pipe in pop music with the tongue-desensitisers, but it would always be an instrumental version, or a cover version sung by the members of staff. Close enough to the real thing but clearly not yer actual, say, Bucks Fizz (who are, obviously, inimitable).

The weather here is stunning at the moment. I have put my winter being into storage for the four tolerable months of the calendar and reminded myself not to think of September-April until August 31st at the earliest. Life is so easily good. The Russian and I have reduced our drop-dead! count to factor in daylight saving. Hell, the sun has even made me give up booze for a while and enjoy it. I feel healthy. I feel warm. And I’ve noticed a benevolent attitude to the world and all its imperfections. I smiled like Laura Bush at the tram drunk yesterday. This contentedness, I presume, can only mean that I am about to become a religious fanatic or have a nervous breakdown.

So the Russian and I trundle out of the house a bit more. Our imaginations don’t stretch beyond food and booze so dinner invariably features. Still no idea where might be a decent place to go but the weather allows for strolling indecisiveness. “As long as we don’t end up at Thai Cuisine on Oranienburger Straße, I don’t mind.”

About an hour later, we take up our places at Thai Cuisine on Oranienburger Straße, a restaurant we both actually hate. Its only customers are English pensioners, who, I presume, end up there because they’ve got a reduction with their Green Shield Stamps. This time, we had the exotic distraction of actual Germans. Pensioners, of course. Discussing their pensions and insurance. Their conversation was a combination of indignation (at everything) (especially prices) and fear (of everything) (especially prices). The food is shit. Shit. Worse than I’d make. I ordered a soup, convincing myself it would be delicious. Ooh. Coconutty, prawny soup. That’ll be good. Except it was, of course, a prawn in a heated can of coconut milk.

The Russian and I discuss which one of us is to blame – “You. It’s your fault. If you hadn’t grown up in the Soviet Union, we wouldn’t have to fucking live in fucking Berlin.” “No, you, you grow aap in dyekadyent Vyest and not appreciate naasink and deliberately choose shit restaurant out of spite. If you grow up in Kirov…” – and instantaneous divorce.

We specify the wine – before I’d gone puritanical – to the waitress at some length. “This bottle, please.” It has a number, like the dishes. Oddly, the waitress then leaves the restaurant. Reappears a few minutes later. Gives us the wrong bottle. Not even the right colour. We feel guilty for making her shop for the wrong wine. She looks crestfallen. We look sheepish and apologetic. And then discuss whose fault it is, recycling the same accusations, when she leaves the table.

But the music. I asked the waitress for some pen and paper so I could jot down the fucking awful songs in their fucking awful instrumental versions. As I waited for one execrable number to finish and another to start, I scrawled ‘shit’ with frantic, aggressive strokes of the pen. The Thai Cuisine instrumental compilation album, perhaps bought online for 1c, featured wordless versions of: I Just Called To Say I Love You and You Were Wonderful Tonight. All Out of Love – Air Supply! Cunting Air Supply! Without words! – and Crying in the Rain. Ferry Across the Mersey and Guantanamera. I waited with dread and noose at the ready for Rainy Night in Georgia. Or, oh god, no, with my finger poised for Dial-a-Firing-Squad, Hotel Fucking California. Or Whiter Shade of Pale.

We skipped dessert and trudged home in silence.



1. Geoff - May 9, 2008

Imagine how much worse it is when you work in a restaurant though. When I worked in McDonald’s (oh yes, I’ve worked in all the most glamorous places) we had ONE tape that was on repeat for the entire 6 months I worked there. So I’d get to hear the same 10 songs about 8 times each shift. It nearly drove me insane. I presume we only had the one tape as head office had researched it to death and proved that burger sales were 2% higher when certain records were played.

Oh, and in the UK at least, you do need a license to play music:


2. BiB - May 9, 2008

Geoff, fuck, bad luck. I never went down the burger-joint route. My first job was when I was 15 and I was employed by a bank as its slave for all my school holidays. Even kept it up when I was in the earlier years of university. Did you know banks had slaves? They do. To make the manager’s tea. Do the post. File shit. 50 quid a week. Full-time. Admittedly, that was 1986. Might have gone up to 200 by the time I finally hung up my ball and chain.

Yes, I think I heard that’s why Wimpy would play cover versions. Must have been a copyright loophole. Maybe the people who run Thai Cuisine mistakenly think people like to listen to (*spits feathers*) Hotel California. Mind you, I suppose without-the-words is sometimes an improvement, for want of a better word (say, deworsement).

3. Geoff - May 9, 2008

I didn’t work in McDonald’s by choice – after being kicked out of school prematurely I applied for jobs everywhere in Canterbury but the surplus of students (to unis & an art college) meant there was nothing going. I managed to get a saturday night job waiting in an Indian Restaurant (which was a whole different but far more enjoyable experience) and then McD’s took up the rest of my time. I’m sure bank-slave was far more enjoyable than 8 hours flipping burgers.

The worst bit of all though was working the tills – customers are so rude and patronising to the staff, they all assume you must be stupid or an immigrant to work there.

4. BiB - May 9, 2008

Geoff, a pal of mine flipped burgers here for a while. He’d just finished his law studies and planned to go on the dole for a second but couldn’t bear the authorities owning his life so he rang them and said, “Rip my application up, please. I’m flipping burgers.” He said it was just as horrible as you’d expect. Picked on by staff for being a queen (aged 30). Being talked to like a piece of shit in English (and sometimes French, which he hardly spoke) by tourists. But it made him look extra-hard for something else, which he found (and also hated).

I think you and I are England’s hardest gays. I was ‘encouraged’ to leave school early too. Seeing my mother cry (and try to hide her tears) in front of the deputy headmistress (*spits feathers again*) was not a good moment.

5. d.z. bodenberg - May 9, 2008

In Germany they need to pay the GEMA (roughly the same as the PRS in Britain), and if it’s a radio as well, to pay the GEZ. I still think they should pay compensation to the staff (and the customers, but generally, in the worst cases, they stay away, because they can). It was the International Day of Wanting To Work and Shop Without Crap Music That’s Usually Far Too Loud And Dangerous To Health Because It’s Suicide-Inducing (After Killing Other People First) the other week, also known as Antishoppingcenterblutbadtag. I know because the music was particuarly bad on that day.

6. Anonymous - May 9, 2008

Stumbled upon you – you don’t know me… (yet)

If you’re seriously asking, a restaurant that plays music has to pay royalties to those evil people who also deny us the pleasure of downloading, etc.

I don’t know if a small Thai place would adhere to those rules (is it the one with the golden horns? If it is, I always thought it was a good one, although I never actually ate there, and obviously I was wrong).

I once had a Thai cover version album played in a Thai restaurant on Wienerstrasse in Xberg. The restaurant is actually a nice one.

7. Geoff - May 9, 2008

Oooo what were you encouraged to leave for? Luckily my parents were in Germany while I was in the UK so I never had to see my mum cry in front of my headmaster (she saved that for me when I got home)

8. Valerie in San Diego - May 10, 2008

It’s probably a mercy that Spring is finite and you only have to live through these blossom-stoked, terrifyingly halcyon hours for a short time…

I just looked through my ample CD collection and was somewhat startled to discover just how many artists have made instrumental versions of their own songs. Presaging restaurant airings? Or just trying to get an extra album cut in? Some of these are arguably worthwhile, but some of them (e.g. Concrete Blonde’s instrumental version of True”) just leave you twitching in the way you do when you hear a lonnnnggg intro to a song, and the singer is just about to open his mouth when the battery runs out on your iPod.

Why did you have to mention Air Supply? I feel the need for a hot shower now. The only way you could have made it worse was to mention REO Speedwagon in the same paragraph. Ugh. With plenty of soap.

9. Marsha Klein - May 10, 2008

There is a special place in my heart forever reserved for hating “Hotel California”.

10. Ed Ward - May 10, 2008

You bet. That’s because you can check in but never check out, or whatever.

If those tunes are identifiable (and, since you’ve identified them, they are), they’re paying — or supposed to be paying — GEMA. But my guess is they’re buying special crap CDs of background music from one of the companies who do this special. Either that or they’re actually getting service from Muzak [tm] or similar.

Not that I have a whole lot of sympathy for people who eat at Thai Cuisine on Oranienburger Str. with the pensioners when there are so many, many better choices just a couple of blocks away. Keep this up and you’ll be eating Pink Glop Indian.

11. Sylvia - May 10, 2008

My husband would love you lot. He hates Hotel California with a passtion. I want to be buried with my copy of that album. And my Green Wing DVDs. The family tell me that my Donny albums can go through the flames with me too.
As for music in restaurants, my father, who ran his own for over 25 years, decided early on never to have music as in his experience it always resulted in rows. It also saved us a fortune in PRS fees.

Gosh, I wish someone had told me to leave school early. Looking back, I reached my peak at 16 and its been a very steep decline since then.

12. BiB - May 10, 2008

Sylvia, rows with the staff (and was that family?) or with the customers? Although I’ve never heard a punter saying, “Garçon, turn off the ELO, will ya?” Donny? What, Donny Osmond? My sister was in the Osmond fan club which, a bit oddly, she still finds embarrassing even though she is soon to turn 50.

Ed, I’m going to go into therapy to work out why we went there. It simply is the epicurean, if that’s the word, equivalent of a masochist sexual fantasy. Wanting to be punished and have a horrible time. But that was it. The last time. Never again. We have well and truly done Thai Cuisine. (The staff are actually nice and it’s not one of the ones with staff trying to drag you in off the streets, but it’s just not good enough. Sorry, Thai Cuisine.) But, having walked for over an hour, our feet leading masochistically inexorably to that point, we were too defeated even to wander to Good Time round the corner, which would have shown us a much better time.

Marsha, I initially read your comment without the words reserved and hating and, am sorry to say, have already been onto the RSPCC to have your children removed to a safe house. When they turn up, will you point out to them that it was all a harmless little errorette?

Valerie, I dare you to click on REO Speedwagon’s very own site. Look at the hair-dos! But now I’m having a nightmare vision, or audio equivalent – an audition? – of the reverse being done to get round licensing rules. Wordless music having words put to it. Brahms Quintets with words by REO Speedwagon. Schubert Impromptus, set to words by Randy Crawford. No! No! Stop it!

Geoff, just for general crapness. But I did fall in love during sixth form, with a gent who kindly fell in love back. Our parents and the college thought this was awfully bad form – photocopied teenage love letters sent between parents – and conspired to keep us apart. Perhaps not surprising that we both left the place. I had to work out how to do my A Levels independently. I wrote to the headmaster once I was ensconced at university saying, “Thanks for the memories.”

Hello Anonymous whom I will one day know. Thanks for the information. I’m not sure if Thai Cuisine has a logo. And I’m overdoing the horribleness, but it seemed all the worse for us having ended up there when it was the place we singularly didn’t want to end up in and the music was the killer blow.

d.z., my never-to-exist restaurant will be silent. I might even forbid conversation, as used to happen in my primary school. Perhaps I’ll employ dinner ladies who’ll wander round hitting customers saying, “No, you can not leave some of your rice-pudding or mash with grey lumps in it. If you were in Africa, you’d eat it.”

13. Marsha Klein - May 10, 2008

Phew! Just got rid of the NSPCC S.W.A.T team – “It was all a mistake I tell you!”

“Perhaps I’ll employ dinner ladies who’ll wander round hitting customers saying, “No, you can not leave some of your rice-pudding or mash with grey lumps in it. If you were in Africa, you’d eat it.”

I bet if you opened a restaurant like that in the City of London you’d be fully booked every night (although you might get tired of all the city boys blubbing into their Ovaltine and after-dinner Polomints about how much they missed nanny/matron).

14. BiB - May 10, 2008

Marsha, or I could combine it with the dinner ladies being dressed up in school uniform, as I am led to believe that is a kink for some. The only thing that impressed me about moving from junior school to secondary school is that we were allowed to leave some of our food. Not that I often did, as I think we often had a choice by that stage and, of course, school dinners could occasionally be delicious. Mmm, that sausagey pie. And the desserts! Heaven.

As I am unlikely to open my Anglo-Russian restaurant, I now only apply the silence-and-no-not-eating-it-all-up rule to me and the Russian. You should see us shudder when guests from rich countries – Danes, I’m talking to you – throw out half of what’s been heaped on their plates.

15. Ed Ward - May 10, 2008

But Marsha, there actually is a restaurant in London called Dining Hall or something where they serve authentic boarding-school food and will paddle you if you don’t finish all of it. Hideously expensive and impossible to get reservations, but it’s been around for ages and has been written up several times — and not only in, er, gentlemen’s magazines, either.

16. bowleserised - May 10, 2008

“there actually is a restaurant in London called Dining Hall or something where they serve authentic boarding-school food and will paddle you if you don’t finish all of it.”

That’s most gentlemens’ clubs, I think you’ll find. Not that I managed to infiltrate many, alas.

17. zoeleon - May 11, 2008

Time for another weather rant. While it is now, according to my bible, weather.com, 23° in Berlin, it is 15° in Madrid. Yesterday we made it up to all of 11°. Nothing puts me in a fouler mood than knowing the weather is BETTER in Berlin, it doesn’t matter how much paella I eat (and forget the sangria, it’s far too cold). I hope you sods are bloody well enjoying it.

18. BiB - May 11, 2008

SSS, are you being deliberately enigmatic by not linking to your blog when you comment? Or do I need to give a little lecture on how to squeeze in your url? (Mind you, as a fellow wordpresser, if you put your url into your profile somewhere, it should come up automatically. But I can see lots of folk don’t bother with their url when commenting in wordpress. What can it all mean?) ANYWAY, well, yes, the sun is shining on us at the moment, but I’m still sure your summer and whole year will still work out a helluva lot warmer and sunnier than ours. I’m still happy up here with my morose and taciturn (in comparison to Spaniards, at least) German brethren, though.

B., I wonder if I will ever make it into one of these establishments to see what goes on there. Is cigar-smoking now banned? Or does a gay bar already count as a gentlemen’s club?

Ed, I can’t decide whether to think this type of perversion is especially British – I suppose it has its variations round the world – and whether it is endearing or very sinister indeed.

19. zoeleon - May 11, 2008

Sorry, BiB, I know this frustrates you because I saw your previous comment on this. I simply can’t say why this is happening. If you look closely, the NUMBER of the post in front of my name is linked, but not my name itself. In fact, I got 3 referrals from your site already today so I have to deduce that your readers can see the link. When I enter comments on your site, all seems to be in order – I’m logged into WordPress as myself (SSS, aka zoeleon), and the form automatically populates with my URL. I’m honestly not that blog-illiterate, although WordPress so far has defeated me with respect to adding you to my Blogroll. I have you up now, using some function called RSS… [my apologies to readers who don’t care about the mechanics of blogging]

20. BiB - May 11, 2008

I think, though I may be wrong, that you need to add your url in the ‘your website’ bit of your profile which you’ll find, when you’re logged in, under My Account (top left hand corner of screen) and then Edit Profile. But that might not even be true.

Gosh, sorry to be a blogging puritan. I think the sun has put me in a bad mood. (I have, by the way, not had a drink for two weeks. Could be something to do with that!)

21. d.z. bodenberg - May 12, 2008

The only “gentleman’s clubs” I’ve ever been into were called “The xxx Royal British Legion” and the “XXX Working Men’s Club”. As most of the people in the first hadn’t seemingly been in the armed forces, and in the second, most hadn’t worked for a long time, and a large proportion weren’t men (they were either underage, or the ‘guests’ (i.e. wives) of members), I didn’t feel too out of place. In those days you just *had* to smoke, or risk being chucked out.

22. BiB - May 12, 2008

d.z., I think a rare privilege when my father was still dragging us to church – he gave up mercifully early, at least with me (as the youngest child) – was to be taken into the church club next door. A grimmer place would have been hard to find/design. Windowless for no good reason. Beer-drenched carpets. A bit of wooden floor for children to skid up and down on. Fans whirring (no doubt needlessly, though perhaps it removed the smell of beery carpet) from the false ceiling. And lots of old(-seeming. They were probably 30) men knocking back as many ugly pints as they could before going home for Sunday lunch. God, wasn’t the past shit?

23. d.z. bodenberg - May 12, 2008

You know, in some places – e.g. the XXX I mentioned previously – despite very significant demographic changes there in recent years – those two members only establishments haven’t changed much at all.

24. BiB - May 13, 2008

d.z., my ex told me a story, which he might have made up, as he liked to make up (admittedly very entertaining, often) stories, though this one is more macabre, so might be true(r), about some Working Men’s Club or other which, to its collective horror, realised it had hired a black musician/comedian/entertainer-of-some-sort one evening. Naturally he was asked to leave in great haste. Equally naturally, he asked to be paid. The establishment planned to refuse so, to settle things, the punters had a whip-round, came up with his fee and sent him on his way. A charming little tale, nicht wahr?

25. The Done Thing - May 13, 2008

I reckon they rebuilt Lisbon after that earthquake just so I could one day walk into a bar there and hear Cut the Jazz by De Phazz.

Not a slice of shite instrumentalism, but I did write down the title anyway, before trudging home with the melody ringing in my ears.

26. BiB - May 13, 2008

Done Thing, I’d never heard of De Phazz but I found some of their noise on last.fm and youtube and thought, “Ooh, that sounds just the sort of thing you’d hear in a Berlin bar that I’m a bit too old for,” and then some ‘research’ revealed that they are German, or the lead person is. Come to Berlin and we can sit around in the sun and listen to that sort of thing all the time. I’ll have to have taken up smoking again beforehand, though.

(Has Wyndham got the hump again?)

27. Christina G - May 14, 2008

Seriously, a couple of blocks and you’d have had semi-descent Thai food (and if you’d gotten on the U there, it could have been authentic). But nevermind. I actually miss Berlin just a little right now. Too bad you guys are so far. But actually, the last time I was in Berlin, Oranienburger Strasse had changed a lot, and uh, not in a good way. So what were you two doing there?

28. BiB - May 14, 2008

Christina, darling, how are you and all your boys? Oliver looks completely angelic and I trust his behaviour matches his looks. I’m having a bout of hetero-envy. Love galore to all four of you.

Do you mean at Good Time? Or somewhere else? From where we live, all walks seem to lead in that direction. Straight down Schönhauser. Then down Kastanien Allee. Then you’re at Hackescher Markt before you know it and then Oranienburger. I want you to believe me, and am sure you will, that the ladies plying their trade there were of only marginal interest.

29. varske - July 18, 2008

Well I started reading your blog because I was thinking of moving to Berlin, perhaps even living there in my old age. Already I know where I belong :)

30. BiB - July 29, 2008

Varske, hello, and I’m sorry if I’ve put you off with my moaning. Gosh, I’m not sure I can recommend Berlin after Tbilisi. I like it here at the moment, when the sun is shining, and the quality of life can be good. I’m guessing things probably function a bit better there than in Georgia, too. But you have the food and wine and mountains and old churches to compensate for all that.

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