When I dined at Taverna MaZi, the new genre-tweaking Greek restaurant that's the subject of this week's review, the piped-in music was nearly always bouzouki-based. The folk music underscores the restaurant's good cheer, and seems to keep even customers who've waited far too long for their moussakas in relatively bouncy moods.
Since Taverna MaZi's chosen soundtrack is so distinctive, I thought listening to Greek music while writing my review might put me in the proper MaZi mindset. I made it through a few measures of "Misirlou" before abandoning my ambient strategy.
As a former prom committee chair, I have an abiding fondness for themes. But I've never had much luck matching my writing music to whichever restaurant I'm reviewing. My job is to evaluate a restaurant, not replicate it, so it's pointless to flood my ear canals with Edith Piaf every time I size up a galette.
But if strange music is distracting, silence is even worse. I count on music to focus my thinking and establish a tempo for my writing. I tend to favor music that's calm, lyrical, and so familiar that I don't consciously hear it. (As I've discovered this week, listening to playoff baseball while writing doesn't work at all.) Since I don't want to fiddle with track selection, I'm usually tuned to Pandora: I've worn out the Joni Mitchell, Gillian Welch, and Richard Buckner stations. Writing a positive review often calls for a springier beat, so I have presets for Old Crow Medicine Show, Willis Alan Ramsey, and Doc Watson too. I have no idea whether my choices would pass critical muster, but I know I'd struggle to produce 1,300 words without them.
My friend Katharine Shilcutt, food critic at our sister paper, the Houston Press, is also prone to repetition in her set lists for review-writing sessions. "The droning somehow makes it easier for me to concentrate on what I'm writing," she writes. "I'll literally listen to one single song on repeat for about an hour. If I didn't have headphones, I think my coworkers would strangle me after hearing the 23rd rendition of Radiohead's 'Creep' as sung by a girls' choir from Belgium."
Former Weekly critic Jonathan Kauffman, now at SF Weekly, takes exactly the opposite approach. He e-mails: "I can't listen to any music while I write -- it scatters the part of my brain that generates words. I need silence or white noise."
Scott Reitz, food critic at the Dallas Observer, prefers listening to "the tapping of [his] fingertips on the keyboard." I can't keep my fingers tapping throughout a review-writing session, which is why I'm always glad when Joni Mitchell launches into "For the Roses" for a third time.