In The Dock: Music being played too loudly from car stereos
This week's subject: Music being played too loudly from car stereos
The case for the prosecution (Alison)
I seem to have volunteered to prosecute one of my pet peeves again, rather than discuss an emotive and significant music related issue. My contribution is late, I have an evil hangover, the shop has no Irn Bru and I’m on day one of my latest attempt to quit smoking. I have all the anger I need for a prosecution case but all I really want to say is that I hate music being played too loudly from car stereos because it’s wanky. I shall try to be more constructive.
Music is obviously a social tool, it’s best when enjoyed with others. I think sharing music is a great thing, I enjoy playing the things I love at the moment for friends and I like when they introduce me to what they are enthused about. But it’s just rude to force what you are listening to on the people who just happen to be around. It’s a bit like finding yourself on the train sitting next to the person with their mp3 player turned up full volume and crap headphones that don’t insulate the sound. I can’t ever think of a time where someone has driven past me with a loud stereo and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard. Even if it was the best song in the world the fleeting and distorted sample never sounds good.
No matter how much you love your music, there’s surely no way that it sounds at its best at such loud volumes. Loud music is great, in a big space, but not reverberating around inside a small metal box. And I like driving with my windows down as much as anybody else does – but only when the temperature gets above freezing. So it’s got to be about sending a message out. Whether it’s "Look at me I have great taste in music", "Look at me I’m bad" or "Look at me I’m worth having sex with", it’s unsubtle and arrogant.
I’m going to side-step a bit and suggest that loud music from car stereos is linked to a particular cultural scene, centred on the cars rather than the music. I’m really not into cars, I have a car because it is useful as a means of transport but nothing more than that. I can understand that other people get more gratification from their cars, it’s a big investment after all and so if it gives you added pleasure it’s a bonus. But I really don’t get why people would want to spend a fortune on modifying a car to the point where the insurance rockets and the re-sale value plummets. Whenever my attention is dragged towards loud music on the street, the typical source is a fairly regular car that looks like it’s had the ‘Pimp My Ride’ treatment. I’ve seen sparkly alloys, blacked out windows, stuck-on spoilers and even neon lights that shine from under the car body. In the 80s it was ghetto blasters held over the shoulder, now it’s Escorts that look like they’ve been raped by Tim Westwood.
On the street outside my work (and where many of my friends live) there is a vibrant "cars with loud stereos" scene. Most nights there will be at least three pimped up cars with blasting stereos, crammed full of boys. They aren’t in their cars because they are going somewhere, they are stationary with no intention of freeing up the parking spot for anyone else. They all jump in and out of each others cars, swap seats within single vehicles and turn the lights on and off, but the cars never move. They have their windows down and their stereos turned up so there’s just an uncomfortable blend of different bass tempos struggling for dominance. You would assume that they’d be more comfortable indoors where they can all be together at the same time listening to music in comfort. But they’re in their cars not moving. It just seems so pointless.
I reckon the voting this week will depend on whether people are more inclined to reflect on the fact that they like to play their music loud when they are in the car or the fact that it bugs them when other people do it. My appeal to you, then, is to vote for the greater good.
The case for the defence (Ian)
I'm tempted to start my defence by noting that the reason you should let people who play music too loudly on their car stereos off is because in the real world what you do in the privacy of your own vehicle is not something the law is going to mess with casually. But this is a feature where we've (occasionally successfully) prosecuted people and careers, so I'll leave that – although I'd like to remind the court that when it comes to music being played too loudly from car stereos, what I'm defending are the cases that aren't already illegal. Sure, if you're sitting in your apartment listening to music and some jerk down on the street actually drowns that out you can call the cops and hit him with a noise complaint – the need for prosecution comes instead from those devious souls who keep it just under the legal limit.
I could also defend the practice on the rather milquetoast grounds that although these people are deeply annoying, they're not really hurting anyone and you wouldn't want anyone telling you what to do with the music you're listening to, can't we all just get along etc etc, and although that's a pretty nebbishy way to go about it I do think there's a point there. How often does one of these people drive past you, or wound up stopped at a light next to where you're walking? Is it really all that big a deal? But this kind of argument, in addition to being as exciting as dishwater, concedes an important point to the prosecution that I do not wish to concede.
Namely, I don't think it's obvious or unproblematic to say that music being played too loudly from car stereos is annoying or negative. Sure, if you're standing there with your iPod on, solipsistically ignoring the rest of the world (and that practice isn't as benign as you might think, once you start thinking about it) it's bothersome to have some shuddering bassbins interrupt your twelth listen through Funeral of the day or what have you. But by that standard we should be prosecuting many, many things, from construction to conversation, and the burden of proving that we should want to do so is surely on the rude, selfish listener who insists on going everywhere enveloped in a cloud of their own stimulation.
Give a thought instead to John Cage. Whatever you think of the man's music (or is that “music”?), he walked it like he talked it; during the later years of his life he owned no stereo, no records, no music as we'd understand it. When he wanted to hear music, he'd open his window into the busy New York City street. Now, I'm not suggesting we should all ditch our stereos and computers (or even iPods, which have a valuable place as long as you're not using them all the bloody time), but surely if you have any affection at all for the natural noises of your environment then your walk to work or brief pause at the bus stop is enlivened, not dampened, by the temporary imposition of blaringly loud tunes, especially ones from a genre or style you wouldn't normally listen to yourself.
Maybe I've just got it good in Canada – the vast majority of drivers I've encountered who do this have their windows up and all I can make out are sublimely twisted bass vibrations, ones that rattle your clothes and leave you feeling strangely alert when the car peels out. But I don't think the real problem is with those drivers, who admittedly are inconsiderate pricks who will get theirs by driving themselves to deafness (another reason not to prosecute – what more will we do to them?), but in our attitude towards them. This isn't some sort of abstract argument for me; I heartily enjoy the occasional encounter with these overgenerous folks, and as someone who only breaks out the iPod at the gym or in my cubicle I don't see why my sonic experience should be curtailed by those who need earbuds crammed in there 24/7. It's unsurprising that our knee-jerk reaction to people playing music too loudly in their cars is annoyance, but we need to consider whether that's the best way to go before pillorying them all.
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Thanks to Alison and Ian. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...