Like everybody else, I love music. I love it like chocolate cake.
Yet I don’t eat chocolate cake all day, every day. If I did, it wouldn’t take long before I hated chocolate cake.
Same is true of music for me. I don’t want to hear it all the time. While listening to a piece I like, I savor it. And when it’s over, I don’t mind a bit of chatter, the sounds of nature, street noise or just plain silence.
But that doesn’t appear to be true for many of our apprenticing adults. They seem to believe that it’s utterly natural for the air next to their eardrums to vibrate violently nonstop. If they’re not sharing their musical tastes with everyone within 200 yards, they’ve got their ears wired to some kind of compact music generator.
It seems kids nowadays need a constant fix of music, or if not music, rap. But I guess we can’t blame them. Since babyhood they’ve been swamped with song—first lullabies, then lo-fi musical toys, then the plink-plunk of morning cartoons.
Our culture is tune loony. Turn on the radio and you find it’s mainly a music media. Go to a wedding or funeral and there’s an opus in the air. Watch TV and you notice that nearly every show is stitched together with music. Enter a supermarket and ditties seep from the ceiling.
We could blame it all on General George Owen Squier who in 1922, invented something called Wired Radio. Across the nation, company bosses loved it because his background music increased productivity—kind of like the old oar-powered ships where the guy pounding the drum picks up the beat when they want more speed. In 1934, Squier’s invention became Muzak.
But even before that, when people went to silent movies, it wasn’t so silent. There was always a piano or organ making sure your ears weren’t bored while your eyes were busy. Ever since, music has been added to movies and TV like salt to soup and salad.
On one occasion, my wife and I were watching an historical program on TV—something about pioneers going west. As the covered wagons crossed the Great Plains, syrupy background music welled up, and we wondered which Conestoga the orchestra was in. What bothered us was when the philharmonic drowned out the narrator’s voice. "Wha’d he say?" we’d trade back and forth. It was then that we discovered closed captions.
Dramas, essays, biographies, commercials, promos. It seems everything must be done with music. That is, everything but TV sitcoms. Those are performed against a background of chronic chuckles and chortles, regardless of humor. “ Call me a taxi.” “You’re a taxi.” Hee-haw, hee-haw. Here closed captions with the mute button works really well.
You might think sports would be music free, but no. For some reason it’s now traditional at stadiums to periodically blast out inane lyrics, like “we will, we will rock you,” and “ta ta da, charge.” It’s as if the game can’t possibly be energetic enough unless they spike us with rhythmic noise.
On television, during a baseball or football game, when they break for a sports update, or do a recap of the action, or segway into a commericial, there is always a drums and guitar brash diddy they play. It sounds like the same piece whatever the occasion. And I swear it’sthe same piece they play on home-building shows and the "How Do They Do It" shows and any show having to do with cars. You got to wonder why. Is it really more entertaining if you can't quite hear what’s being said?
And commercials… Don’t you just hate it when you find yourself humming some silly tune for some product you hate, like airline service? Or one you don’t consume, like cat food?
It’s no accident. Advertisers are playing on that universal psychological weakness—the one that nearly destroyed Odysseus while tied to a mast as he sailed passed the Sirens. It’s a human soft spot, the love of music. That’s why they use it against us to get our money.
Everybody who’s doing stuff for you or to you knows this. They want us to buy more, work harder, or yell louder. And they know music bypasses the logic circuits in our heads and goes directly to our hearts.
To me the tidal wave of music in our lives is usually distracting and often annoying. It’s essentially just noise pollution. I don’t need to hear “Old Suzanna” when watching Samuel Clemens’ biography. I don’t like to hear “Muskrat Love” while buying hamburger. And I don’t appreciate hearing “We’ve Only Just Begun” while my dentist is drilling my tooth.
Yes, I know—there are a lot of people who don’t mind being serenaded numb. But I love music when it’s my kind of music—played when I want to hear it.