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Sound and Fury
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
One night in college I remember my roommates and I being jarred awake by an impromptu party next door — it was late, after midnight, and we could hear the front door slamming and the laughter and bustle as the guests started to arrive. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal — we had had a number of parties ourselves, after all, and there's sort of an unwritten rule among college neighbors about tolerating that kind of thing — but it was a Thursday, a school night, and my roommate had a final coming up the next day. Just as we were debating about who was going to be the killjoy to tell them to keep it down, our neighbors' gargantuan stereo kicked in. They had one of those old Pioneer monsters, with the huge box speakers, heavy on the bass, and the sound rumbled effortless through our puny walls. Clearly, something had to be done here, so I took it upon myself to be the narc and started toward the door.
Before I got there, though, one of my roommates said, "Wait a sec." I stopped and looked at him. He was smiling, and holding his hand up. I listened. They were playing an album that we all loved, one that we played all the time. My memory's a little foggy, but I'm pretty sure it was either R.E.M.'s Murmur or Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom. Either way, whether the song was "Radio Free Europe" or "Beyond Belief," there was no way we were going to tell them to turn it off. It would have been some kind of violation. So we just stood there, listening to it, and by the third or fourth song we said to hell with it and got dressed and invited ourselves over. Turned out to be a great night, one of those weird, unexpected happenings that only occur when you're not looking for it. We became good friends with our neighbors that night, purely because of their music. If they had been playing Journey or Foreigner we probably would have called the National Guard.
Jump to a few decades later, this past August, when my brother was moving my nephew into his dorm at I.U. They spent the day moving the stuff in and my brother said it was odd: there wasn't any music being played. The dorm was full, for my nephew was one of the last to arrive, so it wasn't like everybody wasn't wired and ready to go. There just wasn't any music. Most of the students were in their rooms and if they were listening to music it was either on their computers or their iPods. It was weird, my brother said; one of the constants he remembered from dorm life was the blasting of music up and down the hall. But now, at I.U., it was like a library.
I know I tend to romanticize the things that are gradually becoming obsolete in my lifetime — newspapers, maps, the sound of the phone ringing in the house, liner notes for CD's, etc — still, I must admit that I really hate it that I never hear music being played at distortion levels anywhere. Maybe it's just my tony neighborhood, but I'm not sure that's it — I get the feeling that this is a common phenomenon everywhere. And it's probably a relief to most people, but not me: it bothers me that I don't hear it out of cars, I hate it that when I sit outside in my patio I don't hear any Clash or opera or salsa music, I feel sad that I can't hear a bunch of drunks blaring death metal out of their grungy apartment.
Of course there are concerts and jazzy lawn things but I don't care about that — I like to know what people are listening to, right now, their personal, private music, wherever they are. I love it when I see someone bouncing along while they drive, screaming every word, it does my heart good to know that somebody is howling at the moon and flinging every bit of ridiculous emotion toward some three-minute piece of utter meaninglessness. Music is such a primal, weird thing, as Oliver Sacks noted in his book Musicophilia : there's no reason why our species should respond to it so wholly, but we do; it's important to everyone. And I miss that I don't get to see that anymore. Occasionally I'll catch a riff or two from a speeding car, but that's it: everybody else is zoned in to their own private musical world, with those omnipresent white ear buds, a sight I've learned to detest.
I know this is a ridiculous thing to get upset about, and I'm sure most people would argue that not inflicting your horrible loud music on someone else is the epitome of civilized behavior. But I can't help it; music is one of the things that people actively love about life, and it hurts to see that this passion is always so dreadfully contained. And I'm convinced that the ubiquity of iPods doesn't help civilized behavior, it merely makes people more isolated in an already too-isolated era. It's ironic to me that the transferal of music among friends from the internet is called "sharing" when "sharing" seems like the last thing anybody wants to do: nobody's "sharing" music (i.e., listening to it together), they're just stealing for their own private use later. Ever been in a car with four other people who are all listening to their own music on their own iPods? I have, and it's depressing as hell.
But all right, let's go back to my college story, when I would have gone ballistic if my neighbors had played something less than cool: doesn't that prove that I'm a total hypocrite about all this? That I really believe, in my heart of hearts, that being forced to listen to someone else's crappy music is hell on earth? And all I can say is: Baby, I have seen the light. The last time I heard someone blasting music out of their car was this summer and the sight was straight out of "Dukes of Hazzard": guy in a pick-up truck, no shirt, beard and bandana, with HIS DOG in the front seat and he's rocking out to Toby Keith. That's right: Toby Keith. And let's be clear, I simply can't hate Toby Keith enough, but the guy's exuberance and off-key warbling was truly something to behold; it made me laugh out loud, it put a kick in my step that lasted all day. So neighbors, get ready: cue up that "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin", blow the dust off that "Feels Like the First Time." I'm all ears.