The night before last I went to a local bar to listen to a piano player in a rock band. He is a friend of mine. He is also a superb player. The other musicians played guitar, drums and bass. They were all excellent players. Rock wasn’t their background. They trained as jazz musicians. My friend told me they played rock together because it was so much fun. They grew up on the music. It was obvious they were having a blast.
I don’t usually go to places that cram 50 people plus or minus seven into a 450 square foot room. (That’s 9 square feet per person; so we’re talking 3x3 feet of personal space, roughly the height and width of a coffin.) But the bar was just around the corner and I wanted to support my friend. So I went. I doubt I will ever go again. From where I was standing at the far end of the room closest to the door with a $6.40 glass of Guinness in my hand, the scene was, to say the least, unnerving.
The leader of the band started off the set talking into a microphone. I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. Neither, I’ll bet, could anyone else. Apparently, that didn’t really matter. Nobody was listening. The leader went on talking as if the whole room was hanging on his every word. Then the band started to play. The only thing that changed was that people talked louder. The music was a backdrop to noise. To give the crowd its due, prodded by my friend the piano player it did join in with rhythmic clapping during one of the tunes, but that merely amplified an atmosphere already overwhelmed by noise.
Where did this idea of equating noise saturation with a good time come from? What ever happened to “In some secluded rendezvous?” Maybe Spike Jones did those rendezvouses in with his parody of Cocktails for Two. (If you don’t know it, stop reading now and watch it here.) The people in that tiny bar may love rock, but they sure as hell didn’t come to listen to it. In fact, as far as I could tell the only people really listening were the musicians. Would that everyone had given the music that much attention.
The noise scene isn’t limited to bars. Several years ago my wife and I went to a neighborhood restaurant that had been opened for just a short time by a local and very well known chef. The noise in the restaurant was so loud it was painful. I couldn’t wait until the meal was over. I told my wife I had to go outside. She stayed to pay. On the way out the chef/owner happened to be standing by the door. I asked him if he would mind stepping outside for a moment.
“I thought the food was great,” I said to him in the relative quiet of a busy street. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to come back here.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“The noise,” I said. “It’s unbearable. Can you tell me why there’s so much noise?”
“It’s the style of the times,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “If it isn’t noisy, people don’t think it's a happening place. We have to turn up the juice.”
What does it mean to be a part of a culture where noise is an indicator of excitement? You can hardly hear yourself think.
Then again, maybe that’s the point.