Right next to the organic mayonnaise, here on Aisle 3 in the beautiful, chi chi, zen-and-now ambience of Whole Foods, the beat is funky. I am boogie-ing to music written in the studios and nightclubs of Motor City, now the rust belt of the country, where suffering and pain reaches down into the guts of musicians who bare it to the world. The cruel irony of that juxtaposed with the affluence surrounding me makes me want to celebrate the blue-collar soul music right there in the store. So I dance down the aisle and think about Aretha Franklin instead of organic gluten-free blue corn tortillas.
They do a lot right at Whole Foods, in spite of the abundance of plastic containers and exquisitely high prices. The lighting is softer and warmer than other supermarkets have. Perfect produce is stacked at arm's height, and every imaginable food product seems to hum a mantra of serenity and mindfulness. The store is lightly populated at 9 a.m., but shoppers I see look careful, have furrowed brows and at least one therapist apiece, probably a masseuse.
The effect of the lighting, merchandising and layout of the store as well as the quality of items serves to appeal to a very white upper-middle class shopper who brooks no nonsense when it comes to a premium lifestyle. It is a marketing approach that is absolutely first class all the way.
Somehow, I feel inhibited by the environment. Everything is just beautiful and truly luscious, faultlessly so. Sort of George Hamilton meets Gwyneth Paltrow - tanned, organic, slim and rich.
As if from blue-collar heaven, I have been saved by an angel singing soulfully. And she has cool backup singers. Motown! Unbelievably, "Chain of Fools" is on the loudspeaker. Aretha Franklin is singing in the most not-Motown store we've got in Monterey. How did she get in here? I feel redeemed in a way I hadn't known I needed redeeming. Aretha Franklin singing real music in a pretend-zen Aisles of Might store. I guess God is wearing cool sunglasses with a pale blue suit and a white fedora, and he is righting a wrong.
Everything changes in me when I hear the music. I want to really dance and sing, "woo, woo, woooooo, chain of fools" with the girls. I yearn for a sleeveless dress with sequins, a wig and a microphone to lip sync with. "Chain, chain, chaaaaaaiiiin....." Those backup singers have the woo, woo, woo part so down. "My problem is, I thought you were my man..." Ms. Franklin, I love you! Come lay down some soul anytime and make it real for us all.
"You got me where you want me. I ain't nothin' but your fool. You treated me mean, you treated me cruel." She's wailing her heart out. I can see her with her eyes closed at the mic and the backup singers swaying, fingers snapping.
Aretha Franklin brings out the diva in a girl. She oozes soul and talent. Every sound and move she makes links her music to heaven and right back to my feet, and I am tappin' and movin' down the line, baby. Shopping cart for a partner, bag rolled up for my mic.
Whole Foods is a niche market unique unto itself where safe, secure and successful people buy just what they want and enjoy the glories of modern gourmet living. It's beautiful, wonderful, exclusive. In spite of all that, I am having a good time in the store because the Queen of Soul is allowed in to wail and croon, if only for one song.
In my own recent past when I was a single mom making ends meet, just barely, shopping in Whole Foods was out of the question. I'm not even close to saying I have lived a life of hardship and severe struggle, but I know what living from paycheck to paycheck is like. My personal struggles didn't include unemployment and foreclosure, but I appreciate that there is a big, tough nation of pain represented by soul, R&B and rap.
The yin and yang comparison of Motown soul in Whole Foods seems like a pretty notable irony. Soul Foods has taken on a new meaning for me. I am obliged to Ms. Franklin for restoring a sense of perspective so easily lost in this exclusive and privileged area of the left coast.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way