Joe, it's just too good

Dan Rodricks

April 29, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

There are a couple of things wrong with Joe Chilcoat's theory that playing opera music endlessly over patio speakers will drive loitering kids away from his Catonsville 7-Eleven.

First, Joe thinks that, because he doesn't like opera, teen-agers won't like opera.

Second, the particular opera music he selected for this project was too good: arias sung by Luciano Pavarotti, one of the greatest tenors of his generation.

I stood outside Joe's convenience store Friday and, being a good-natured chap, he agreed to turn on his stereo so I could hear what he considers repulsive rhapsodies. When I heard Large Luciano's voice belting out a beautiful Italian love song, I told Chilcoat he was more likely to attract a crowd than to repel one.

"You think that's good?" he asked incredulously.


"Oh, well, then you like opera," he said.

"Yeah, but you don't have to like opera to like Pavarotti."

I know foundry workers, usually big Patsy Cline fans, who go for the Two-Ton Tenor. I know aging Led Zeppelin fanatics who pause when the Corpulent One's voice comes soaring out of a radio. I've seen macho men cry upon hearing Pavarotti's "Nessun Dorma." And the women -- the women, they lova this big guy.

None of these people would sit through an entire opera -- most of them agreeing with Rossini that opera would be much better if it didn't have singers -- but they love Signor Lungs.

So, Joe Chilcoat made a bad choice offering up Pavarotti as musical pesticide.

But first, he erred in assuming that kids won't like opera, that it'll drive them away from his convenience store, which sits on a corner where kids have been gathering on Saturday nights for a couple of generations.

I think just the opposite will happen. Most of Italian opera is too pleasant, the big arias too romantic, the big choruses too familiar and too much fun. The teens will get into this. And if you don't believe me, contact some of the princes of pop culture who advise the big advertising agencies and movie companies. They've been slipping opera in here and there -- in TV commercials, in blockbuster films -- for the last decade or so. It's a calculated effort to tap into some emotional vein in the consumer. In the process, the producers of these commercials and films have made opera somewhat hip. If you hear it in movies like "Fatal Attraction" and "Moonstruck" -- and in commercials for champagne and luxury cars -- it must be cool.

I don't know if they'd ever use opera in a 7-Eleven commercial -- can you see Placido Domingo singing a tune from "Tosca" with a Slurpee in his hand? -- but Joe Chilcoat could draw a crowd by playing Pavarotti on the patio speakers outside his store on Edmondson Avenue. So, it's not a good idea.

Joe's a nice guy. Merely by smiling he became the most pleasant 7-Eleven owner I ever met. He likes kids. He sponsors local baseball teams. But he can't have his parking lot looking like a campground. For years, the kids have congregated on the parking lot. For years, Joe asked them to leave.

Then, he read about a 7-Eleven owner in Seattle who used repeat-play music to repulse the loiterers outside his store. The idea is to play a tape until it sufficiently annoys the loiterers. It's like musical electric fence.

But I think Joe needs to come up with music that's a lot harsher on young ears.

And by harsh I do not mean loud. Volume has nothing to do with this. These kids love rock music, and they love it loud as they can get it.

Joe needs Really Repulsive Rhapsodies, a compilation of the best of the worst music ever recorded, music so dreadful you can pipe it underground to drive pesky rodents away. Here are some examples (I'm not making these up):

"Where's The Playground, Suzie?" sung by Andy Williams.

"Don't Cry For Me Argentina" (the Olivia Newton-John version).

"We've Only Just Begun," sung by wee Paul Williams.

"Proud Mary," sung by Leonard Nimoy.

"It Ain't Me, Babe" and "Like A Rollin' Stone" (recitative by Sebastian Cabot).

"Try A Little Tenderness," sung by Jack Webb.

"Born Free" by Ferrante & Teicher.

"You Are The Sunshine of My Life," sung by Jim Nabors.

"Jingle Bells" (barking dog version, 60 minutes non-stop).

Send in your suggestions for Really Repulsive Rhapsodies, and I'll pass them along to Joe.

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