The Trepak

The music they play when you're on hold waiting to talk to someone at the IRS is Tchaikovsky. And not even good Tchaikovsky either -- just snippets from The Nutcracker.

Aside from the hilarity that comes with the realization that the music you're forced to endure while waiting to give your money to George W. Bush so he can fund his war was composed by a Russian homosexual -- it's hard not to wonder if there's more at play here than just having something audible on the line to let you know that you're still in the queue to talk to one of their super-helpful phone representatives.

Because as much as I adore the work of Russian composers (my all-time favorite is Stravinski), the thing that sets them apart from other classical music is the way their sweeping melodies are repeated and built on top of each other. Or to put it another way, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy starts out nice enough, but by the time you get to the end of it Tchaikovsky is literally hitting you over the head with the notes.

In fact the entire Nutcracker Suite (which most people have grown numb to because of the way it's become a Christmastime standard) is a study in taking one musical theme and then just repeating it over and over and louder and louder with more and more instruments jumping in to thicken the sound. Composers call this practice crescendo, and when you're watching a ballet it can be an exciting thing because it's usually a cue for the performers to pull off a special or difficult move -- but when you're on the phone and all you hear the same 10 notes over and over you sort of lose that connection to the dynamics of the piece itself.

In other words, the IRS has picked the most annoying part of the song to play, and they crank that fucker up to 11. Every now and then a recording comes on thanking me for my patience and asking me to continue to hold -- but aside from that it's just death by Glockenspiel literally daring you to stay on the line.
To put this in perspective, imagine that Fergie was on a stage singing "My Humps."
Not because it's a great song (because it isn't) but because like many famous classical pieces, it's a recognizable theme.

So Fergie and her huge ass is up there doing her thing, singing and dancing around to the music of the band -- but then in the middle of the song, she breaks it down to where it's just her voice and maybe a bassline groove going while she sings "My Hump, My Hump, My Hump, My Hump" and motioning for the crowd to clap along in rhythm. You've seen it before at concerts -- a little change in the dynamics of the song, something to get the crowd involved.

But then a spotlight comes on and Beyonce comes out on stage to rousing applause, and joins in singing "My Hump, My Hump, My Hump, My Hump" And people who like that song would be all like "this is amazing, can you believe this!?" and you think it couldn't get any better -- until the remaining former members of Destiny's Child come out and join in. Followed a few minutes later by Rhianna, and The Pussycat Dolls -- and the next thing you know it's like a pop music supergroup on stage providing you with the ultimate in one-time concert experiences and you're texting everyone you know and telling them that they're totally missing out until the crowd starts applauding again and you realize that Snoop Dog is up there, followed by 50 Cent, and the Mormon Tabernacle Boys Choir, Insane Clown Posse, The original cast of Mama Mia, and then a video screen drops down and there's clips of New York firefighters singing it, various famous athletes, Jared from the Subway commercials, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Coochie-Coochie girl Charo, Kevin Eubanks and the Tonight Show Orchestra, and a host of highschool marching bands in full dress uniform all repeating "My Hump, My Hump, My Hump, My Hump" over and over and over at the top of their lungs.
That's what it's like when you cut a Tchaikovsky ballet down to a single theme.
Which is exactly what you get to hear while you're waiting to talk to a live human being at the IRS.
It's kind of a strange sign of the times I suppose. I mean everyone I know now has a cell phone. Which means when you call them, 99% of them know who you are when they look at the number that appears on the screen. And of course we all know what happens then -- they either decide to pick up or not.

A cellphone call going to voicemail these days could mean a variety of things; the person is driving, they're on another call, they're in a place where they simply can't talk right now -- but because we all have cell phones too, everyone in the world is also knows that when you get a call on your phone from someone that you don't really want to talk to at the moment (or ..ever, depending on who it is) that the standard move is to let it go to voicemail.

In fact, most people I know don't even check the messages you leave -- choosing instead to just call you back and say something like, "You called?"

The weird thing though is that when you call someone on a cell and you get voicemail, you kinda know that more often than not it means that they didn't want to talk to you, even though they easily could have. But as long as they call back eventually, we let it slide. People are busy, and sometimes phone conversations take time away from other things you need to do.
So why is it when you're stuck on hold for ages that it becomes so utterly infuriating?
How is it that getting shuffled off to voicemail by a friend isn't anywhere near as annoying as having to wait for extended periods of time to talk to someone who is essentially obligated to (eventually) pick up the line?
Is it because you know you can't call up the IRS and say "Hey it's me, hit me back?"
Or it is because somehow you just know that somewhere in Washington all the customer service representatives are sitting around a computer watching the counter next to your name, laughing and placing bets on how much longer you'll sit there before you finally boil over with frustration and hang up?
..Two guesses who came out on top of that little wager.

[Listening to:  Element Eighty"Guntruck" ]

Comments

whatigotsofar said…
Okay, caption contest time.
"In Soviet Union, dope smokes you."
Werdna said…
Comments are back!

Caption contest: "Yakov is okay with silly hat if it makes Tchaikovsky happy!"
Satorical said…
"I used to practice sucking ass, like this. Now I am champion!"
Hex said…
wigsf -- Here's the weird part though, you know how Yakov is actually paying the bills these days? He's doing shows in Branson, Missouri. How bizzare is that?

werdna -- Tchaikovski Happy, isnt' that the name of a Bjork song?

Satorical -- If Stallone decides to remake another old movie, it should be Rocky IV. Except Yakov should play Drago. And they should fight for real. To the death.