17 May 2009


New Yorkers are among the most fascinating, sophisti­cated people on earth, lively conver­sa­tion­al­ists with opinions on every subject. This does not explain why we are so terrified of actually hearing what any other New Yorker has to say; yet it’s a fact, impossible to ignore, and the proof lies in our insistence on turning up the volume on “ambient” music at every club and bar (to say nothing of dance clubs, which I ceased to frequent years ago). This weekend I’ve come too close to tinnitus in the aftermath of my innocent pursuit of the company of old friends. One estab­lish­ment I visited on Friday was a karaoke bar, where I discovered the firm convic­tion that nothing improves the karaoke experience more than louder drunken amateur singing of uncertain pitch. And anyway, why would you want to converse when that sorority girl from New Jersey is wailing “Wind Beneath My Wings”?

It’s seldom openly acknowl­edged yet never­the­less evident and true: the reigning philosophy of New York bar managers has long held that, the louder the music, the more popular the bar must be. I’m distressed to learn that this philosophy extends more and more to restaurants, too, and it is only by paying phenomenal sums of money that one can dine where the clink of crystal and the caressing lilt of conversation are audible. These places consider themselves “elegant” instead of “trendy,” and they‘re priced accordingly. For any other meal, you‘d do just as well to squat in the middle of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway. (Good luck getting a table.)

The cynical or heartless among you may argue that my objection to noise pollution stems from my age, and that as I approach the golden years of cantank­erous­ness and crotcheti­tude, I fall neces­sar­i­ly into the pattern of every old crank who came before me: complaining about that which amuses younger persons. You may have a point, parti­cu­lar­ly where the kind of music blaring is concerned: I do prefer songs from days gone by. And because I spent more of my youth in opera houses than in rock clubs, I have never developed the ability to shout intimately. That would have been a useful skill.

But it’s true that noise levels really are rising. Part of this phenom­e­non, I suspect, is a response to custom. For once we grow used to a level of noise, other noises must be made louder, merely to get our attention. If your car radio is playing loudly, that ambulance siren must crank up the volume, or you won’t hear it. When both your car radio and the siren are in the street directly outside the restaurant, the manager will crank up the sound system inside, ostensibly to avoid spoiling the dining experi­ence. Bit by bit, life gets louder and louder and louder.


1 comment:

latebloomingmom said...

Even when I was in my 20s I hated the clubs and their loudness and the endless dance mixes. My favorite NY hangouts tend to be Italian coffee houses where you can linger for hours over cappuccino and a plate of assorted cookies, though the one I loved most is gone: Cafe La Fortuna, on 71st and Columbus. John and Yoko apparently frequented it too, though I never saw them there. Oh, and by the way, the only music they ever played was opera!