They say you know you're getting older when you think the music is too loud. That's not true. I've always thought the music was too loud. When I was 18 years old and I went to my first nightclub, I was shocked by the stratospheric decibel levels. It felt as though the booming base was reverberating through my DNA. Between the tsunami of sound and the flashing lights I feared a stroke was imminent.
“Am I supposed to like this?” I thought. “I can't even hear myself think. How am I supposed to carry on a conversation?” I wasn't, but I didn't know that. Like I said, I was 18, and clearly already a bit of a weirdo.
“But how am I supposed to know if I like a guy if I can't talk to him?” I screamed over the pervasive din to my friend as we walked to the bathroom. Exactly, but you learn to live with it. You know that if you're going out to a nightclub the music is going to be loud. If you can't deal, you don't go.
I’m not sure though who made the executive decision that we need loud music to clothes shop by, but here we are. This doesn’t happen in Talbot’s, of course, but in the stores that cater to the young and those who wish they were, it’s retail party time. It puts me in mind of the Margaret Smith joke, “I returned a shirt to the store. It turns out that I didn’t really like it, only the song that was playing when I bought it.”
I find it's the situations when you don't expect to hear loud music that it can become problematic and awaken your inner cranky curmudgeon, for example: inside the JetBlue terminal at JFK airport. When I showed up for a 6am flight to Orlando, Florida, I was not prepared for the Big 80s concert blaring through the state of the art sound system. Don't get me wrong, I love 80s music just not playing loud and proud at five o'clock in the god damn morning. I’m old school. I’ve partied until the break of dawn, not “from” the break of dawn.
Call me a fuddy duddy but I usually try not to “Pump Up the Jam” until sundown. Boy George before noon is just wrong. And yes, I'm a diehard Prince fan but not at 0-dark-30. I was one Cyndi Lauper song away from taking a hostage. My true colors were going to make the six o'clock news.
So I was looking forward to a little peace and quiet which you don't always get on a cruise ship. I was on my way to perform on a four-day Caribbean cruise. Not as glamorous as it sounds. Like a hotel, the walls on a ship are paper thin, especially in the crew area. When someone in the cabin next to me sneezes I feel compelled to say, god bless you. I could probably punch through the wall and hand them a tissue but that seems a bit intrusive.
On this trip the crew member in the cabin next to me must’ve worked for JetBlue. Instead of 80s tunes however, I was treated to a smorgasbord of percussive club music. Judging from the clarity, the gentleman must have had his Bose speakers facing the wall right at the head of my bed so I could catch every nuanced, drum machine-generated beat.
At around 2am I struggled with whether or not I should say something. The only thing worse in American culture than being old is appearing old. I wasn’t looking forward to shuffling down the hallway, knocking on his door, and asking him turn down his music like I was one of the parents from “Footloose.” But that’s exactly what I did. And to my surprise he was very sweet about. He apologized, turned his music down, and had the good grace not to say, “You’re welcome, grandma.”
Given the cocoon of quiet that subsequently enveloped my cabin I suspect the guy probably resorted to putting on his headphones. That too is worrisome. With generations of us abusing our ears with all sorts of auditory contraptions, I fear we are on track for some major long-term hearing loss. Consequently, it will be old people — not young — playing their music too loud. And future generations will be begging us to please turn it down. They’ll have to shout to be heard over Tears for Fears.