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September 27-October 3, 2006

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Livin' in the City

Crank it down a notch, wouldja?

By Sara Bir


Someday we will learn our lesson. Seeking the peace and quiet that we could not attain in the Bay Area, my husband and I have naturally enough moved to the largest city in the country. Our apartment in California was plagued with low-end rumblings from our upstairs neighbor's massive television set, and it drove us nuts. You know how your car vibrates at a stop light when the pimped-out stereo of the car next to you blares reggaeton? It's like that car was parked right above our apartment. We were looking forward to leaving that behind.

Now we are the upstairs neighbors, but no closer to the silent domestic bliss we'd hoped for. At random intervals, clumsy clusters of bass notes seep up from the floor, then cease just as suddenly. Then they begin again. At first, we figured someone down there was doing a terrible job of learning to play bass--they couldn't even get through a whole song!--but eventually I solved the mystery: it's the five-year-old son of the occupants in 1-A, playing a Blue's Clues computer game. Every time he completes a task correctly, the game rewards him with a very loud micro-jingle.

This problem can be easily solved; all I need to do is go down there all neighborly-like, perhaps with homemade cookies in tow, and politely ask them to turn the fucking Blue's Clues down. Either I am getting quieter or music is getting louder. I'm pretty sure it's not the former. I am one loud person, especially if you get a few drinks in me. And I like--no, I love--loud music. If a song is good, logic dictates that making it louder will make it better--especially if that song features noisy guitars and drums. If you watch old television shows like Dragnet, you learn that the presence of loud rock 'n' roll music is indicative of lost, uncaring teenagers, and you think, "Neat-o! I want to be one of them."

Somewhere in those intervening 40 years, though, loud music lost its rebellious cache. Everyone plays music loud, including my dad, whose favorite CDs are recordings of the Ohio State University Marching Band and John Philip Sousa. When he's not abusing the stereo, my mom takes over and cranks up Enya. Nothing against parade sets and atmospheric woodland-elf music, but for optimum listening pleasure, loud music must also be cool. KISS can roll over and tell the Who the news: Blue's Clues has the rub on them.

For solace, I joined a health club and participated in a yoga class. The instructor played wishy-washy New Age music, which is ignorable enough. But then, just as I was about to truly connect with my inner self in goddess pose, the New Age music gave way to the Lion King's "Circle of Life." Across the hall, spinning class commenced, and Christina Aguilera appeared on their sound system to duke it out with Elton John on ours. Not surprisingly, Dirrty Christina won--"Ain't No Other Man" is about all you could ask for in a dance-pop song--but any continuation of goddess pose was a lost cause. I cancelled my membership.

Loud music used to be my own personal pleasure. I'd indulge in the car, on my Walkman, in my bedroom, and no one ever once told me to turn it down, except that one time in college when my roommate and I were dancing in our underwear to "Cum on Feel the Noize." And at concerts, a band's performance of loud music became the conduit that linked an entire audience's private exaltation. But loud music in public does nothing but isolate people. Every time I hear loud music at a fashionable store, movie preview or hipster bar, I move deeper into myself in the worst way possible.

While enjoying the benefits of big-city life (a subway busker playing "Amazing Grace" on an unamplified hurdy-gurdy; Arabic pop music emitting from a portable stereo at a cart that sells dirt-cheap gyros), I dream of the life in the country that Mr. Bir Toujour and I will someday attain. We'll have a barn where he'll set up his drum kit; there will be chickens and goats for eggs and milk, a front and back yard for the dog.

But I'm too savvy now to expect it to be peaceful. Trucks will roar by, chainsaws will whirr out in the woods, and our nearest neighbors, half a mile away, will still manage to destroy our quiet evenings with the earth-shaking bass of their television or computer. Or maybe we'll be lucky, and they'll make noise with actual live music instead of recorded crap.


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