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Shhh......

just for a moment......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 20, 2002.

I was in music performance for years, and I have strange fondnesses for Rock'n'roll turned up past midnight and bass notes that alter bone marrow. And I’ve endured more feedback than any but torture victims should have. Bear this in mind: I ain’t no sound sissy. But I have a new favorite song, and I can’t hear it enough. I’ll bet it would be more popular if it were more available.

I say this because New York has finished a survey of its citizens and found that the most common complaint is not terrorism or any of the traditional suspects but noise. Pointless, stupid noise for its own sake. Portable music blasters, clubs that keep their doors open to attract crowds, screaming idiots, drunken loudmouths, and car horns. And the city is punishing offenders now. Ticketing those leaning on their horns waiting for their dates to come down.

Hello? In New York?

It would be hard to say if noise is actually getting louder and more common or people are now more aware of silence and its music since the murders of the towers. I cannot tell you, and I cannot tell you if my animosity to pointless sound is due to my increasing age – stop squirming in your seat, put your feet on the floor and eyes forward! – or due to the fact that there is more sound. More pointless, aggravating, sound. I think both.

We all know, and perhaps are, the sorts of individuals who have such low sense of identity that we cannot do anything – go jogging, go shopping, go potty – without an AM radio blaring in the background. People who get up in the morning, stare out the window at a rising sun and…..turn on the radio or television. I say AM because that’s generally where you find the forced laughs, the assigned sense of play and fun that tries to leave the impression life is a big, vaguely stoned party and the listener is part of it. The listener, of course, isn’t part of it and that’s why he/she listens. They have the time. They have the need. Today, what was once satire is now fact, like the movie Network.

But to some, listening isn’t sufficient. They want to assure any stranger in earshot that they themselves are part of the happening scene. So they sit and nod their head to the music and laugh at the juvenile genital humor like a Springer show audience, and they do so with ghetto blasters on the bus and roll their windows down at traffic lights on cold winter days. And black SUV’s pretending to be frightening drug lords with their huge woofers, even if they bought their fake head hankie at the Seven-Eleven. This is fully understandable with teenagers, but less so in adults on motorcycles and pickups. They clearly want to be seen and, more important, heard, bespeaking a lack.

People who listen to public radio, of course, will have headphones, sit primly on public conveyances, and eat water cress sandwiches with the crusts gone. I see it all the time. Also, Elvis.

In my lifetime, music was once pretty rare, low fi, and enjoyed when offered. Today, music is everywhere, hi-fi high volume, and assumed to the point of ignored.

When I moved to my new home from University Hill and worked at my desk in the afternoon this autumn, I would open the window and hear, for the first time in centuries, birds. Not the cawing crows and magpies of The Hill, but sparrows, chickadees, finches, and all the other little things I had more or less forgotten about. Forgotten the pacing and trills of beings that sing for the sheer hell of it, sometimes. Early on, a little bird silently landing on my sill and giving an inquiring peep nearly made me include Attends in my next shopping run. It seemed so loud, and he was so close, but he was so small and the minutes before and after were attended by the sound of silence, a giant shell of hollow chambers. I could feel the fine hair growing back in my inner ear. I could, I think, hear them grow.

Silence, by which is often meant the absence of human noise but discounts that of nature, has become my favorite song. I find myself enjoying most those musicians and artists with a fondness for the sustain pedal with gentle notes falling, falling away into warm depths and swaths of clean, pure white canvas. Even those comedians that know how to use silence, the slow burn. As a New Englander, I long ago discovered the beauty of minimalist Japanese painting, gardens, and mood. I’m becoming ripe for yoga. I listen to jazz as for the first time.

I wonder, with all those people walking across the Brooklyn Bridge fourteen months ago, if along with the horror and fear they noted with their heightened senses something else in the long march with its spectacular views and the vibrancy of a great city in pain about them. That absent the distracting noise and blather a great beauty arises, burnishing thought, focusing the heart. That silence, even relative silence, is not exclusively indicative of death, but highlights life as well. In their gratitude, they wanted more of it, maybe? Maybe.

I surely wonder, because when New York City starts complaining about noise, and does something about it, a world has changed for the good.