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Starbucks rocks Paul around the clock to no ill effect

The Baltimore Sun

Let me begin by saying I'm a big fan of Paul McCartney's and hope he keeps rocking until they finally stick him in a nursing home and the other residents start shouting every time he picks up his guitar: "Paul, enough with 'Lady Madonna'! We're trying to watch American Idol here!"

Let me also wish him well during his coming divorce proceedings against what's-her- name, the ex-model hussy he married after Linda died, the one who's trying to take him to the cleaners when she isn't twirling and making a spectacle of herself on Dancing With the Stars.

Having said all that, though, what are we to make of the peculiar form of torture that occurred yesterday when, to celebrate the release of the former Beatle's new 13-song album, Memory Almost Full, nearly every Starbucks in the whole world played it nonstop all day long?

Did you hear about this?

Starbucks has more than 10,000 stores in 29 countries around the globe. And every one of them was ordered to play Memory Almost Full all day long because Sir Paul ditched his old record company to sign with Starbucks' Hear Music label.

Yep, sad to say, this is how 64-year-old rock legends get their music out to the masses. When the radio stations won't play it anymore, they package it with a venti Orange Creme Frappuccino.

Then again, McCartney also flacked Memory on the Home Shopping Network last month. Yes! Paul McCartney on HSN! Starbucks looks like the Royal Albert Hall compared to that gig.

But, look, I don't care how great an artist is. Play a single U2 album all day long and see what happens. Loop the same Ray Charles set over and over. Or Maroon 5's latest or 50 Cent's greatest.

The result will be the same. You'll drive people nuts.

So the reactions to this all-Paul, all-the-time assault yesterday were predictable.

At the Starbucks in Belvedere Square, an angry mob, hopped up from too many cups of the Guatemala Antigua blend, ripped the speakers from the wall.

At the Roland Park Starbucks, the staff, driven to the breaking point by midafternoon, emptied the display case of all the Memory CDs, stacked them on a table and set them on fire while chanting: "Burn, baby, burn!"

At the Starbucks near Towson University, police in full riot gear were called in to ... OK, sorry.

Got a little carried away there for a sec. None of that stuff happened.

Actually, reaction to the nonstop playing of the new album was fairly low-key at the Starbucks I visited.

At the store near Towson, they weren't even playing it until I walked in about 9 a.m. and said: "Uh-oh, you're not playing the new McCartney CD! You know what that means: 10 demerits from corporate, at least."

At the Belvedere Square store, it was playing so softly over the sound system you could barely hear it over the whirr of the coffee grinder.

"It's not bothering me," said Scott Allocco, 46, from Homeland, who was sipping coffee and doing paperwork. "I've been here for about an hour and a half and it's been running on a continuous cycle."

At the Roland Park store, the album had been playing since 5 in the morning when I walked in just before noon, and the staff looked drained from the experience. I overheard one staffer tell the manager she was starting to lose it.

Oh, I'd like to be able to report further on what effect 12 or 15 hours of continuous listening to the new CD had on Starbucks employees, and whether this violated some labor law about the workplace environment.

But that's impossible, due to the fact that when Starbucks employees see someone with a notebook walk in the door, they immediately go into full fight-or-flight response.

Their little eyes get wide and their breathing gets shallow.

Then they start waving their skinny arms in the air and intoning in the manner of those animatronic Disney characters: We can't talk to you. You must go through corporate media relations!"

Fine. I don't like your coffee anyway.

For me, a card-carrying baby boomer and lifelong Beatles fan, the most revealing moment came at the Roland Park Starbucks where I ran into 16-year-old Elaine Kwon, a student at Friends School, and a classmate, 17-year- old Malik Knox.

The two said they were studying for an English final.

"Silas Marner, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights -- all that stuff," Elaine said.

The music was much louder there and I asked how they liked studying with Paul McCartney wailing over the sound system.

"It sets the mood," Malik said. "I like it."

"It's very stimulating," Elaine said. "It's better than hard-core rock music. That's too distracting."

But Paul McCartney, rock 'n' roll legend, was not distracting at all. How sad is that?

The boomers used to rock out to his music. But to these kids, the geezer Beatle was now elevator music, something playing in the background as you try to remember all the ways Silas Marner screwed up his life.

To me, this was even sadder than Paul on the Home Shopping Network.

Although not by much.

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