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Internet jukeboxes are killing the art of curation

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Traditional jukeboxes used to be thoughtfully curated and were once integral to the identity of a bar or restaurant. Now, nearly every song in existence is just a few clicks away. (Courtesy photo)
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Internet jukeboxes are the ruiners of worlds.

OK, that’s a little hyperbolic. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a single internet jukebox that has lifted off from Earth, traveled at light speed to another galaxy and destroyed a planet. (I’m sure Alex Jones believes it’s happened — or pretends to — but I suppose internet jukeboxes are not literally ruiners of worlds.)

They are, however, ruiners of bar ambiance.

Back before the these evil machines began popping up in drinking establishments, a jukebox was viewed as an integral part of what made a bar special. Owners and managers curated the feeling of their watering holes by putting thought and effort into what the place sounded like. Patrons knew that some bar jukeboxes were full of metal albums, others filled with hip-hop records, and some had a wide variety of musical genres. A jukebox was even something that you’d rate a place on, like, “We should go to the Homestead, they’ve got a great jukebox.”

But the internet jukebox has ruined all of that. Sure, there still are a handful of places that have actual jukeboxes full of curated music. But over the past 10 years, more and more places that do have a box choose to make it an internet one.

The problem with the internet jukebox is that a patron can play almost any song that exists — and that’s terrifying.

Imagine you’re in a nice dark dive, chatting in the corner with some friends, and some jerk decides to put $50 in the machine and play “Who Let the Dogs Out” on repeat 50 times. It’s an extreme example, but certainly a real possibility. I know we can all agree that the perpetrator of such a crime should be immediately abducted, dressed-up in a pancake costume and fired from a catapult into the side of a building, but it’s just too hard to find a good catapult these days. Plus, I can’t let internet jukeboxes ruin pancakes, too.

With certain brands of internet jukes, you can even add songs to the queue from an app on your phone. This means you can terrorize a bar with nonstop Kenny G — and you don’t even have to step through the door. It’s like a goddamn drone strike.

Another insidious aspect of the internet jukebox is that people can pay extra to skip their song ahead to the front of the line. Maybe you’ve been jonesing to hear Tom Waits growl that “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” You pay and wait patiently to hear it cascade from the bar speakers. And then, you keep waiting and waiting and waiting … You may never actually hear it because people who come after you keep paying extra money to hear their songs.

It’s actually a perfect analogy for American Democracy: Every dollar deposited in the jukebox represents a single person’s vote, but those who are willing to spend more money not only get more votes, but their votes are also prioritized.

Unfortunately, we may be past the point of no-return. A bar owner recently told me Rainbow Novelties, the local company that installs jukeboxes, is phasing out the old-school style due to demand for ones with internet capabilities.

We’ve created our own hell and now we’re forced to live in it.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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