Turn The Music Off!


by Mark Mercury

You are being denied some of the basic joys of life. Like the person who has to put salt on everything he eats and can no longer enjoy the natural flavors of food, you are being deprived of some of life's truly delicious moments by the incessant, nagging drone of background music.

It's everywhere! At the supermarket, the pharmacy, restaurants, clothing stores, social gatherings, gas stations, elevators, while you're waiting on hold, bank lobbies, movie theaters, doctors' offices, malls—

MALLS! It's a musical war zone in the malls. First, there's that insipid pap being released from the overhead speakers like some kind of nerve gas: Beatles songs played with violins and harps. (Don't you feel soothed?) Then, many store owners place speakers that blare into the concourse each owner's individual ideas of good music. The waves of sound that hit you are like waves of attacking soldiers. One army surges out from the store on the right, another from the store on the left, and they clash in the middle, right where you're standing; so you get rap in the right ear, heavy metal in the left, and Beatles mustard gas raining down from above.

Please, turn the music OFF!

When our ears are continually flooded with this gratuitous music, we begin to accept it as necessary and normal, and less and less do we actually LISTEN to music for its own sake. Our real appreciation of music is cheapened and music becomes to some degree a sonic wallpaper, one of many decorative background components of our daily lives. And as we all know, many wallpapers have been put up with the best of intentions but with the worst of taste.

But more importantly, what is wrong with silence? What is wrong with enjoying the natural, charming sounds of a place? Have we forgotten how to enjoy the cozy music-less atmosphere of a restaurant? Do we have to eat with music? It should be sufficient to listen to the murmur of conversation of other patrons, the clinking of glasses and silverware, and QUIET dialogue. Why must we be denied the pleasure, after we've finished our meal, of savoring a fine wine without having to listen to "Bye, bye Miss American Pie..." nosily and noisily intruding into the mood and forcing us to raise our voices to a higher pitch?

Lest you brand me as an extremist, I wish to state that I'm not against all background music, just as I'm not against all salt. A few bland foods taste quite good with a little bit of salt, but most foods don't need it. Likewise, we don't always need background music to raise life to a higher level of interest. Life without background music is not necessarily bland. Music, when it is called for, needs to be used judiciously, sparingly, and with good taste. Traditional Japanese music played softly in an elegant Japanese restaurant is appropriate, but the indiscriminate music of a local FM radio station in that same restaurant is not. And until merchants can act with good taste, they should stop bludgeoning us with inappropriate background music to try to put us in the "right mood."

How do they even know what kind of music I like, or you like? They can only cater to what they believe is their average customer, and therefore the music that is played says to the non-average customer that he or she is less cared about in that establishment. Even if they did know what kind of music I like, how do they know I even want to listen to music at that moment?

You don't hear background music at the better dramatic theaters and concert halls, because it is well understood that such a crass, indiscriminate use of background music would 1) take away from the mood of the theater and that delicious anticipation that an audience works up prior to a performance, and 2) ruin that wonderful afterglow an audience enjoys when the performance is over.

But unfortunately, more and more, establishments are resorting to the loud colors of wallpaper music to decorate their profit ledgers. Perhaps, one day, even the concert halls, dramatic theaters and art museums will fall victim to this trend. There you'll be, gazing at Rembrandt, listening to Sting in the background. You'll go into a public library and hear background music polluting the once hallowed silence because teams of psychologists did numerous studies and concluded that people actually dread silence and that they can access library services more effectively if anesthetized with a little background music.

So let's handle this now. Turn the music off, and enjoy the atmosphere of the places we find ourselves in. Let's harvest the richness and diversity of the sounds already around us, and let's also enjoy a little silence for a change. Let's enjoy the pleasure of a lively group debate at a party without having to raise our voices--and our thoughts—over non-requisite background music. Let's enjoy the pleasure, as we drive home from the movie theater, of prolonging the nice feeling we got from that romantic comedy, and not cheapen it by automatically turning on the car radio. Let's not put salt on our homemade apple pie. Turn the music OFF!



©1995 Mark Mercury
All Rights Reserved