This week marks both “No Music Day” and “Buy Nothing Day” and mostly everywhere they will be celebrated with lots of good old music and shopping.
“Buy Nothing Day,” started by Vancouver artist and activist Ted Dave, has been around since 1992, and in that time has been about as effective as “TV Turnoff Week,” another publicity stunt that grabs a few headlines, but does nothing to affect people’s behavior. So I suspect this Wednesday’s “No Music Day” will have even a harder go of it. That is a shame because there is nothing I would enjoy more than a day of peace and quiet.
My take on “No Music Day” is a bit different than that of its founder, former rock star Bill Drummond, formerly King Boy D of the ’90s British band KLF. Drummond says the idea came about with “the feeling that music wasn’t having the effect on me that I wanted.” Drummond now calls himself a performance artist, so no doubt “No Music Day” is his latest masterpiece, a bit of art even more ingenious than the time he and his mates publicly burned today’s equivalent of $2 million for no apparent reason.
Others who plan to unplug their IPods Wednesday have equally curious reasons. Search the comments on the “No Music Day” website and you find the usual Noam Chomsky-inspired cliches: “It’s not music anymore. It’s white noise. It’s product. It’s a core demographic. It’s a target audience.” To me, these are the least of the problem.
Drummond’s original idea was to go for a year without listening to music. But why change yourself when you can change the whole world? In the end he shortened the idea to a single day, which is still an impossibility, but a more manageable impossibility, I guess.
Even more than Drummond’s fellow Brits, Americans are bombarded with bad music no matter where we go, no matter what time of day. Pop music is heard on the street, in cars, films, shops, elevators, lobbies, post offices, airports, and waiting rooms (unless, of course, there is TV). And, without exception, it is awful. I have never once heard Gorecki’s Sympanthy of Sorrowful Songs or Brubeck’s Take Five at my local Piggly Wiggly. But I have heard Billy Joel’s “Big Shot.” Approximately 500 times. I would feel sorry for the people that work there, but they do not seem to mind. Indeed, they seem to enjoy it.
SADLY BAD MUSIC does not discriminate. This past weekend my girlfriend and I dined at a nice, fairly upscale restaurant. The food was great, the decor lovely. But the whole experience was tainted (for me anyway) because of bad dinner music: Willie Nelson singing in that annoying nasally tone: “Maybe I-I-I-I didn’t hold you, quite as something as I should have…” Followed by Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” Yeah, time to bring the check. We were amazed that the proprietor would think that anyone who could afford to eat at his restaurant would actually enjoy such racket. He had the choice between no music, soft classical music and rather loud 1970s and ’80s pop music, and there did not seem to be any question in his mind which his clientele would prefer. I said nothing. I thought about saying something, but when I looked about the room and saw that the music had absolutely no effect on the other diners I figured that once again I was the oddball and bit my tongue.
A few music aficionados have been warning about ubiquitous bad music for decades. Benjamin Britten, with all of his creative imagination, could never have imagined the ubiquity of bad pop music when in 1964 he warned against the horrors of recorded music and when he called the loudspeaker “the principal enemy of music.”
Today we expect music to be everywhere like cowpies in Calcutta. Apparently without it we will get anxious, the cold sweats. Five minutes without a pop song and riots will ensure or else people will flee your business establishment to some shop where Britney Spears music is playing.
We are a nation of radical individuals. Nobody is going to tell an American to turn off his IPod — except maybe a cop. Government nannies may ban smoking and force you to strap on seatbelts. But take away our music and that nation of individuals will become an anxious and ugly mob.
Unlike Drummond, and the people at Pipedown International — a group dedicated to ending music in public and some private spaces — I do not feel there is too much music. I feel there is too much bad, canned music. If you must have a day, how about “No Bad, Canned Music Day?” Now that is a day I will gladly celebrate.
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