May 8, 2009

The Jukeboxes of Clarksville, Pt. 3

Welcome to Moe's!
This is the story of a man who woke up one morning with a song stuck in his head. A classic tune about feeling good, sharing the love and doing your own thing. His “thing” happened to be food. Southwestern fare, with a special appreciation for the form and function of a tortilla. He experimented with fresh ingredients and had an appropriate name for each creation. He opened a restaurant, and made it known loud and clear that no matter how many times a day he had to say it, everyone who came through the door would feel welcome. And if you stuck around long enough, you’d probably hear that song that helped make a man, a legend. -- from the Moe's Southwest Grill website

Perched on the corner of a strip mall, Moe's Southwest Grill gives you two walls of windows instead of just one. The spacious feel is accentuated by the open "industrial style" ceiling in place of the usual dropped acoustic tile ceiling. The walls are covered with commercial counterfeits of “outsider art”, fake Southwestern geegaws, and pseudo-quaint coinages such as “If you don't have fun saying guacamole, you're probably not saying it right”. The menu on the wall tags their burritos with names such as Triple Lindy, Joey Bag of Donuts, Art Vandalay, and so on. Their tacos go by names such as the Overachiever and The Funk Meister. As the door swings open & you breach the threshold, every employee in the joint yells “WELCOME TO MOE’S!” at you. You imagine the ones who don’t get fired. You immediately become more than a little annoyed with the tool who came up with that idea. You immediately become more than a little annoyed with Moe's faux feel-good 60's hipster/hippie-isms.

The typical Moe's burrito isn't exactly haute cuisine, or even particularly memorable, but at least it (seemingly) isn't the same evil processed shit you encounter at a burger joint, or Taco Bell. Moe's seems to be at least a faltering step in the right direction of real food with fresh ingredients. As such, Moe's flaunts the assumption of a kind of base-level superiority, which happens to eerily echo the assumptions of base-level superiority the Boomer generation itself has. These assumptions manifest as an easy-going hubris, which is not the less annoying for its good nature.

The playlist at Moe's is classic rock, natch. It would be virtually indistinguishable from a normal over-the-air classic rock station if it had adverts and announcers. The playlist generally eschews the rowdy side of rock (light on the biker rock) in favor of the more mainstream hippie mainstays: The Byrds, Jim Croce, "Cat's in the Cradle", "And I Love Her", etc. It also is not afraid to stray outward to such touchpoints as James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Big Band, the Bee Gees, INXS (?!), Ray Charles, and so on. Like most any classic rock station, if you are a fan of rock music of any kind, and you listen long enough, something will play that you like. Taken singly, most of the songs are just fine. Taken as a whole, and taken as part of the hipster/hippie context, the playlist is annoying.

Moe's burritos are just dandy, all things considered. I even applauded when they took a step back from the "all things good for you" aesthetic and added pulled pork to the menu (not a bold move, considering swine's position in the sacred foodie pantheon). The thing is, Moe's is not selling burritos, Moe's is selling the sixties. You know, the sixties that is FUCKING EVERYWHERE in the media these days, the sixties that is politely waiting for The Great Generation (WW II) to die off to finally have a full monopoly of the American landscape. Indeed, Moe's is selling the sixties, Dennis Hopper is selling the sixties on behalf of some hedge fund, Viagra is selling the sixties, every bank and insurance company, EVERYBODY is selling us the sixties. And why is everybody trying to sell us the sixties? Because almost every single Boomer is completely convinced of the moral, intellectual, aesthetic, emotional, even physical superiority of the New Great Generation. And being totally, irrevocably convinced of the superiority of the New Great Generation, all they have to do to sell us their great ideas and concepts is to let us know that they are coming from THE SIXTIES.

The sixties were dying a slow toxic death in the mid-70's when the capitalists started to get involved . . . or rather, when the "revolutionaries" decided to become capitalists. The selling of the sixties began around that time, when the salesmen decided that a little hair of the sixties dog would cure that seventies hangover. The selling began in earnest when the New Great Generation self-analyzed their guilt over being capitalists almost into oblivion (almost! They still are just guilty enough to have to rationalize everything they sell by pointing to its inherent goodness, which of course is owed to its being a product of their own imaginations/toils, which means it derives its goodness from the Boomer's own inherent goodness). It started with The Beatles, the Summer of Love, tie-dye, rock -n- roll (not the same as The Beatles), and sex, and eventually evolved into the mask of total superiority that we have to deal with today. Perhaps most annoyingly they sell the sixties as youth culture, and expect it to be EVERYBODY ELSE'S youth culture as well . . . repackaged, degraded simulacra of the events that were more myth than reality to begin with. They expect their hippie-isms to be hip . . . and that's not just wrong, that's pathetic. Everyone is entitled to play with their juvenile identities as much as they wish, but ultimately, a tie-dye shirt is as defective a cultural marker as a Playboy bunny or a Nike swoosh.

I have to admit that I, too, am a fan of the sixties. I love loud guitars and feedback. I love crazy, insistent drums and singers who believe what they say matters. I love bangs. I love sunglasses. I love left-wing politics. I love all those black power free jazz guys (and even a few gals) pushing every limit thrown in front of them, including good sense. I love fast, loud cars driven in a homicidal/suicidal manner. I love the saturation of sex. I love wacked-out Marxist European intellectuals who actually believe revolution is imminent. I love wacked-out European intellectuals who think that Marx has long been passé. And yes, the sixties do mark the point that America began to awaken from its parochial slumber (a process still in its infancy, unfortunately). Without the sixties, we would not see a generation of the most socially conservative, fundamentalist Christians now coming into power that care almost as much for environmental and poverty issues as they do about eliminating abortion and gay rights. Above all, I love the sixties for the idea that you can CHANGE THE WORLD.

Yet it's clear that such monumental turmoil pulls much in its wake. The sixties are about narcissism as much as they are about anything else. There is something about "newly-won freedom" that devolves from wonder, power and excitement on down to hedonism to bottom out in a kind of solipsistic dissolution. The grand victories in civil rights lead everyone to see themselves in some way as a repressed minority so that they may personally share in the "rights" revolution, so that they too belong. Today, the civil rights battle for people repressed because of race, sex, religion, nationality, income, and sexual preference has to share media time with pathetic degraded civil rights-styled nonsense such as "airline passengers' bill of rights" and "consumers' bill of rights". It is a tribute to the leveling effect of the "everything is everything" sixties fake equality mindset that mainstream news media can equate the complaints of consumers with the Bill of Rights completely without irony. Ultimately, the legacy of the sixties is massive and ambivalent, unlike the unambiguously hip goodness its shills present to us with brain dead smiles.

And so the violent tumult of an entire decade gets degraded like faulty mimeographs into small empty talismans of commercialism. I like Moe's burritos just fine. I could switch up my choices enough so that I could eat there several times a week and not get tired of the food. Their trademark salsas are actually pretty damn good in spite of the ridiculous names. I like most of the music that is played over the speakers. And indeed, unlike the corporate fast food along the
Veteran's Parkway/Lewis and Clark Parkway mall corridor, this food doesn't seem specifically designed to kill me (even if it is still a long jog away from being healthy). But, the New Great Generation's sales job gives me indigestion. That, and the fact that some poor sucker could be called to account for not yelling "Welcome to Moe's" every time that damn door swings open.

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