July 21, 2018

Enough of the Public Cacophony!

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Have you noticed that you cannot go anywhere without music playing at high volume? Banks, cable companies and psychic shops, to name a few places, pipe out loud and usually obnoxious music. And, it is not just these venues, where we’ve come to expect music, which play it; other businesses where you expect serenity or a modicum of quietness are contributing to the cacophony. Doctor’s offices, elevators, and stores all feature music to help you shop or pass the time.

Why is it that we cannot have silence in public places? Why isn’t the subtle pinging of cutlery against plates or the melodious murmur of voices in a waiting room enough auditory stimuli? The other day I went to a cafe. I decided to bring a novel with me, looking forward to sitting in a back booth, having a delicious meal, and reading in peace and quiet. It was not to be. As I walked into the foyer, I heard Aretha Franklin belting out Respect. Now, I have no problem with Aretha, her music, and giving her respect; I own three of her CDs. My problem is one of choice–whether or not I wanted to hear her. I did not.

It used to be that music was relegated to unobtrusive, background white noise, not any more. I was recently in a theme restaurant. You know the type of restaurant. They serve quick sandwich-type foods and big onions in a theme-oriented atmosphere. This restaurant featured a faux cowboy ambiance. The usual buffalo head, horns, and wrangler paraphernalia hung from the walls. The place simulated a saloon atmosphere by dangling ropes from the bar, having pictures of cowpokes on every wall, and leaving the bathrooms just grungy enough so that you thought you were in a horse stall.

Lest you think that the western theme fell short there was the music to remind you that you were, indeed, in Arizona cow country. Country music blared from strategically placed speakers. For the entire hour we were there we were bombarded by singers as we strained to hear each other talk. Our conversation competed against a bevy of clone-like whiners lamenting the loss of a lover, their two-timing spouse and their “achy, breaky hearts.” I left the restaurant with a headache, the jimjams and the words of Hank Williams telling me about someone’s “cheatin’ heart” repeatedly playing in my head. Like I really cared about his problems!

There was no escaping the din in the bathroom either. While the television mounted on the wall announced WW Smackdown wrestling, country music bellowed from the speakers in the ceiling. Talk about competing forces at play!

The insidious creep of music is everywhere. Where there was once tranquility, there is now audio madness. Take your grocery stores, for instance. All play easy listening music. Some play music from a particular period, for example, 80s music (as if there was any music during this period), a Bee Gees afternoon, pan flute versions of the Beatles songs, or Muzac does Aerosmith. I guess some marketer told them that they can increase the sales if they play the Beach Boys to the over-50 crowd. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need someone singing “caught between two lovers and feeling like a fool” or belting out “Help me, Rhonda” for me to decide which orange juice to buy. Hearing “Billie Jean is not my lover” is not exactly conducive to price comparisons. Why can’t I squeeze lemons without the racket? Why can’t you go to the doctor’s office without the noise? There’s nothing like the thrill of a prostrate exam, listening to “I’ve got friends in low places” to make you realize just how vulnerable you are.

What’s a person to do? Asking the wait person or clerk to turn off the music doesn’t work. I know, I’ve tried. If you ask, the person looks at you as if you are asking him explain quantum theory. I have registered my noise complaints on those evaluation cards that ask you what you think, even though they really don’t want to hear what you think. They just want you to think they care. Anyway, I have told a dozen places to turn off their music but to no avail. Not patronizing these businesses is an option, but you soon discover that you don’t go anywhere anymore. Do they sell bagels online?

My solution: I’ve decided to wear earplugs when I go into restaurants or grocery stores that play music. I’ll still continue my fight to rid venues of the pandemonium they call music, but until they become music-free I’ll make my personal space noise-free. Just maybe, if enough of us complain they will turn off the ubiquitous music or, at least, turn down the volume. In the meantime, if you see me in a grocery store, make sure you yell. I may not hear you.

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