Weaponized Music from Within the Walls of Jericho

Hello, my name is ... and I confess I have been a repeat stereophonic offender. As instructed, I have a hearing headset attached over my ears to keep my music private, until the revolution comes round again, that is. Oh, back in the day, in those rock'n'roll explosions of teenage angst, we built speakers big as obelisks. Sure, I'd started out on the soft stuff. But that universe was shaped by the Beatles. Then it was Beethoven, on eight-track cassette, and the family's 70s style Sears sound system. Then on to harder stuff, John Denver. Three Dog Night. And then, Elton John. But it was Bachman Turner Overdrive, then Kiss, oh Jesus, the best hoax in the history of rock. But not Led Zeppelin. That was too loud, too dangerous, too long-haired for the home censors. I kept Led Zeppelin in reserve. Pink Floyd on the dark side of the moon, For the day of the big breakout.

The inspiration for all of this was the day the next door neighbor in north Scottsdale played Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog." My father and I were sitting on the back porch and we just looked at each other like, "What the hell?"

So what followed was inevitable.

That time came when we built four-foot-tall speakers in a custom cabinet, that, despite our best efforts, rattled and hummed with too much bass because of the over-sized woofer, mid-range and tweeter. From that point on the family home was a living being of pulsing, vibrating rebellion sound. My parents were amazingly reserved, under the circumstances. But when left to my own devices, it was a house shaker, profoundly disturbing enough to generate true hatred from the neighbors, despite my emerging good music tastes.

And then there was the day the maid ran out the door.

But it wasn't led Zeppelin who ran her away (OK, I'm not going into why we had a maid, other than to say my mom was always sick, OK?). It was Jon and Vangelis. Featuring Jon Anderson of Yes, hardly from the branch of the demon rock tree. But his voice is pretty otherworldly, so I could see someone easily getting spooked. But with Vangelis, a lightweight electronic composer? Hardly the stuff to set off earthquake alarms. Anyway, the maid was from San Salvador, and may have had some PTSD symptoms. We were blasting some soaring pre-electronica track and she flew away from the ghost in the machine of sound and never came back. She ran out the door claiming she'd heard the devil.

Now the important thing to know at this point is all along, I was simply sharing music. To the max. Just pure enthusiasm. But now that I'm older and wiser, having gone through multiple instances in which I truly believed loudly playing, say, the newest U2 album, might do the world some good, I have now rethought those years, making some sad conclusions about the role of popular music in our society in the process.

Basically, goes like this: Not everybody's antenna is willing to tune in. Or even capable of tuning in, getting the vibe, whatever. No matter how good the tunes are, when that bass-burping automobile goes rumbling, with the bass and drum audible for a city block, it's no more effective of a persuader than any religious witness pounding on your door.

Beyond a doubt one of the most incendiary noise bombs in the history of classic rock is
"21st Century Schizoid Man," by King Crimson in 1969. It's a Vietnam Era shock and awe of mustard gas guitars, the harsh distortion of the voice. Tis the volume that was the anti-matter, so to speak.

Here are a few more factoids I can think of regarding sound and violence. First of all, I cannot compete in an apartment complex. I am on the weak side of detente with next-door folks who have sound systems that can vibrate the walls. They played the Talking Heads' "This is not my beautiful house" song so loud, I knew I couldn't compete with my computer desk speakers, which are only as big as small bricks.

Other facts in rock history: Pink Floyd once killed a lake of fish playing too loud in the 1960s,
And governments do this kind of thing all of the time. They point sophisticated sound systems at crowds, bass disrupters to the belly, punk bass drone strike. These are the types of technologies cities invest in when they get a big boost federal cash for convention security. The main symptom is a sickness to the stomach.

During the Reagan Administration, U.S. military forces in pursuit of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega used heavy metal played on huge speakers to try convince him to resign and turn himself in. In Iraq, music has been used as a psychological weapon, For example, in torture. But in a broader sense, more like you would think of as Wagner is played during the "cavalry" helicopter attack in "Apocalypse Now." They kept the Branch Dividians in Waco, Texas up all night with it: endless blasts of Van Halen and Ozzie Osborne and Metallica, basically making the cult's point, that the horns are blowing at last.

Today my speakers are small as stones, monuments to the day the music died. Polishing the psychic arrows now through the headset contraption, where most of us are cut off from the well, I'm a loser in a war against the Jericho walls of the mundane world.

No comments: