Let’s play some free association. I say “Viv.” You say…“coffee.” Wrong. I say “Viv.” You say…“Sheryl Crow.” Right!

About a week ago, I ventured to Café Viv for the first time in quite a while, softly singing “Soak Up the Sun” to myself on the walk over. Never mind the fact that it was cold and cloudy out. The mention of Café Viv inspires within me some bizarre Pavlovian response wherein selections from “The Very Best of Sheryl Crow” immediately and uncontrollably pop into my head.

As I entered Viv, I was strangely relieved to note that everything was the same, from the bizarre neon swirls on the ceiling that bathe the café in an eerie glow down to the Sheryl Crow they were playing. I went up to the counter and started to explain to Angele that I was writing an article about the music of Café Viv.

“Do you want me to change it?” she interrupted.

“Oh, um, no” I replied. Then I wondered: “Do you ever want to change it?”

Angele smiled in a way that could be construed as a smirk. “I don’t mind but a lot of people do,” she said.

I asked how they changed the music. She shrugged and sent me to the Welcome Desk. The students at the Welcome Desk looked at me blankly and told me they didn’t control it. A couple days later I returned to Viv and repeated the same process, except this time it was with Marie. And this time the girl at the Welcome Desk informed me that that the employees of Café Viv understand that “Frist is very conscious of the image it presents.”

Thus, I went to the mothership: 118 Frist, Office of Frist Operations. There, Laurie Hall, the Associate Director of Frist Programs and the Campus Center, informed me that Viv employees had the power to turn the music on and off and raise or lower the volume but they couldn’t change it. That would explain the longing way in which Marie looked at the CD remote, as if it possessed forbidden joys.

Yet I had vague memories of irate friends successfully asking Viv employees to change the music. On my third trip to the counter – Marie had continued to look at me suspiciously as I left – I found Joel, who was happy to inform me that, while they could not access the CDs, Viv employees did indeed have the power to change them. He waved the remote proudly but did not know who played Sheryl Crow so much. “Maybe someone really likes her,” he said. “I don’t,” he added.

To be fair, Café Vivian, which derives its, um, vivacious name from Vivian Shapiro, President Emeritus Harold Shapiro’s wife, does sometimes play other music too. According to Craig Morris, the Associate Director for Operations and Facilities at Frist, the Viv CD changer operates at random, supposedly generating an arbitrary mix of music. I asked about the preponderance of Sheryl Crow. “I’m not sure what that’s about,” he replied bemusedly.

That Sheryl Crow is played frequently is hard to deny. For some, the sheer frequency of Sheryl’s appearance is overwhelming. “I don’t go into Café Viv any more because I’m afraid they’ll be playing Sheryl Crow,” said Brittany Davis ’06, who has haunting memories of last semester’s reading period, when she said they played the album at least three times in one day. “I used to like Sheryl Crow but now I’ve deleted most of her songs from my playlist,” she continued.

I contacted Crow’s publicist, Dave Tomberlin, to ask him what he thought about his client unwittingly torturing the vast majority of Princeton students. On my fourth try, his exasperated assistant informed me that he was “busy with the Billboard awards.” Yeah, whatever.

My last hope was that perhaps Vivian and Harold Shapiro might be able to help me. I called his office and asked his secretary if he could contact me. Instead, I got this email response from her: “[Professor Shapiro] said he and Mrs. Shapiro are not in Cafe Vivian enough to determine what music they would like to be played.”

After all this, it turns out that Morris has beneficent plans to revamp the Viv CD collection over Christmas break. “It has been becoming a topic that I’ve been hearing a lot,” he said. He explained that the vast majority of the Viv soundtrack had been selected by Tom Myers, now Director of Frist and University Scheduling, then Associate Director. Morris explained that Myers went to BMG music looking for “background music and easy listening.” The collection underwent a slight adjustment about a year ago, which would account for the mysterious disappearance of the orchestral version of boy band songs. Never again will I be haunted by trying to decipher the violin melody only to discover that it’s “I Want it That Way.”

Morris said he’s looking for student input and hopes to make use of the large staff of student employees at Frist, who now number in the sixties. “I don’t know if a complete overhaul is necessary,” he mused, which leaves the possibility that Sheryl Crow might still be around. But then again, there is the bittersweet chance that she might not. Which means that we may have to go to Viv and enjoy her one last time before she leaves for Las Vegas. Or perhaps Yale.

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