Farewell to the Juke Box




The jukebox may have joined the buggy whip, the mimeograph machine and the video cassette rewinder in technology heaven. I believe this because I’ve looked and nowhere, not in any public or commercial space in the entire Granite State, have I been able to locate a single “great jukebox.” In fact, my search has mostly drawn puzzled looks from people. A few remembered a place that may have once had a juke box that wasn’t cluttered up with 50 generic rock CDs. A great juke box doesn’t give you that many choices. The choices are made by someone who knows and cares about the sort of music that fits the kind of dive, greasy spoon, roadhouse or honky tonk where the juke box resides. Even if it’s a nice place, the kind where you take your family for pizza and grinders after the Little League game, there’s an appropriate mood-setting playlist with songs like “We Will Rock You” by Queen and “Centerfield” by John Fogarty. This magazine has conducted some kind of general appraisal of “best” things in the state as long as I’ve been here, and it’s always been a goal of mine to find the “Best Juke Box in N.H.” Maybe it’s those memories of high school nights, my date sitting back at the table, and me finding, as if by magic, the three perfect songs for my quarter. Once I asked Telegraph science columnist David Brooks if he knew of a great juke box and he remarked that the Internet made the whole concept passé. “The kids who used to drop a quarter in the juke box are now downloading every hit song ever recorded onto their computers,” he said. And that was before the advent of the iPod. Friendly curmudgeon Jack (his-bark-is-worse-than-his-bite) Kenny once offered to take me to lunch at a West Side Manchester diner that had a great juke box with old country hits by George Jones and Marty Robbins. We drove over together and discovered it had been closed for a while. I had pictured one of those setups where each booth had its own controller and a coin slot to operate the central record player. It was too dark in the window to see if I was right. I just read a newspaper story about how the latest thing in juke boxes is, in fact, a wall-mounted MP3 player that goes in each restaurant booth and is hooked up to the Internet. You’ll be able to pick any song ever performed by anyone in the history of recording. Imagine a restaurant where you could order any kind of food ever made off an online menu. Is that progress? I guess I just like being given a short list of options, provided by someone I respect. It gives me something to disagree with, for one thing. If everything is available, choice becomes a chore. The thrill of discovery often comes from taking someone’s advice and then taking it another step. At least you know how you got there. Now, this magazine is really nothing like a juke box, but imagine for a moment it is. Some excellent choices have been prepared just for you at this place and time. There’s someone you want to impress waiting back at the table. You gaze at the possibilities thoughtfully. Now, drop your quarter into the slot and let the magic begin.
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