Last week I had to take my daughters shopping for bathing suits. We walked into Sears, prepared for a depressing shopping experience, as most encounters between females and bathing suits seem to be, when everything got worse. A rap song was playing over the speaker system. I don’t know what the women in the orthopaedic shoes department thought of this, but as far as I could tell the words went something like: “Feel the Beat, so you can feel the heat!” I looked at the girls, and we decided Sears was too hot, even for bathing suits. We went elsewhere.
I happen to believe that silence can be golden. Our lives are busy enough with phones ringing and televisions blaring and people yelling that sometimes it’s nice to just have nothing at all to listen to. But when I step in an elevator after a meeting, and I finally get a chance to take a deep breath, the speakers are invariably broadcasting a 25-year-old song which was already lame when it first came out. It hasn’t gotten any better with time, but some powers that be have decided that all elevator riders want, above all, to listen to Air Supply.
As conservative John Derbyshire once noted, this is what is so maddening about music in public places. All other things we don’t like we can easily enough avoid, but music is a different story. I’m not particularly fond of the modern Britney Spears-type dancing, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to start gyrating in front of me as I eat at my favourite restaurant. Likewise, I don’t particularly like professional wrestling, but when I’m taking a walk down by the waterfront trail, I doubt I’ll run up against two guys dressed in ridiculous costumes pounding away at each other. In other words, with most things that we detest, we can easily avoid them simply by not going to see them.
But music is everywhere. No matter where we go—restaurants, shopping, elevators, shopping malls—music is playing. And usually it’s awful music.
Right now I am sitting in the library, typing away, which is where I normally work because at home the phone rings constantly. The twenty-something guy working at a table beside me is listening to music through his ear phones, which I suppose is considerate. But he must have it turned up to 11 or something, because I can hear a constant blaring, and I don’t know how he’s getting any work done. He is, however, doing a lot of sniffing and snorting and coughing, probably not realizing how loud and disgusting he sounds because the music in his ears is fooling him into thinking he’s
Why are we so scared of silence? Has life become so fast-paced that the thought of being alone with nothing but our thoughts become intimidating? What if there’s no noise, and then we realize we actually don’t have any thoughts, or at least few worth dwelling on? What if we’re alone with ourselves and we get bored? Is that the secret impetus for music everywhere? Have we become so scared of having to think all by ourselves?
When music stops, though, we can actually hear life. One of my favourite sounds is the blanket of silence on a winter’s day, after a snowfall, when all sound is muffled. It’s almost like the absence of sound, and it’s quite profound. Spring sounds are lovely, too. Finally we open our doors and we hear birds, and children laughing, and happy noises, to make up for the dreary months punctuated only by the lovely sounds of soft, falling snow.
Sometimes even just hearing your own breathing can be soothing, or lying next to someone you love and hearing their heartbeat, whether it’s a baby against your chest or your spouse whom you adore.
Yet we miss these beautiful sounds when we insist that all of life must have a soundtrack. If my life were to have a soundtrack, there certainly would be occasional music, during parties, or maybe classical music during dates. My daughters would play the piano for me when I’m pensive, or depressed, or even elated. But normally there would be no music at all, so that I could just enjoy the sounds of my real life. They’re infinitely better than “feeling the beat”. Trust me. Shhhh.