The Curse of Unwanted Music

Ye shall have music wherever ye go. Whether ye like it or not. The Basils have decreed it.

No, not the TV puppet. Basil Brush is our family name for those mentally deficient and aurally damaged cretins who drive about in crappy cars fitted with refrigerator-sized bass-box loudspeakers, with the windows open, and BOOM-BOOM issuing into the street. You get the Basil Brush connection now? Good. If you don’t, nevermind — all will come clear. Oh, what the hell, I’ll tell you now; Basil Brush was an immensely popular TV glove-puppet. A cheeky fox. A fox’s tail is called a brush. With me? He told appallingly bad jokes and always ended them by saying “boom, boom!”. It’s an old-fashioned English thing. So that phrase has passed into my family vocabulary to describe the terrible bass sounds that emerge from different sources, including cars, when the aurally and cerebrally challenged cretins cannot function, apparently, unless this noise accompanies them.

The cretins in question are usually male, always spotty whatever their age; they are always wearing grimy t-shirts, wrap-around sunglasses whatever the weather or the state of the light; baseball-caps back-to-front and facial expressions somewhere between a sneer and constipation, and they tend to spit a lot. Female versions? Yes, occasionally, some of them slightly better turned out, sometimes slightly easier on the eye, but equally brain- and ear-damaged.

When I can, and frustratingly the situation does not arise very often, I pull up alongside the throbbing vehicle, wind down my window and give them Stockhausen or Bartok at full pelt from a specially compiled disc. Or Harrison Birtwhistle. Nothing remotely tuneful. No Mozart or Brahms. I keep a couple of such truly horrible classical CD’s in my car, reserved specifically and exclusively for blasting the Basils. I am no more likely to listen to any of the above than you are. But when I do get the chance, the expression on the faces of the Basils is worth the wait.

This business of being forced to hear noise blasted out of (very) loudspeakers seems to be an Anglo-Saxon thing. Imported, possibly, from the USA. Possibly not. Cars, restaurants, certain types of low-end clothing shops. All over.

What has persuaded the managers of restaurants that the service is not complete without forcing the customers to hear some pop artist’s teenage yowling accompanied by what sound like clanging dustbins, terrible bass booms and howling guitars?

I go to restaurants to eat, and, cautiously, to drink. I want some interesting, possibly unusual but certainly not pretentious, food. I want some pleasant company, and the congenial atmosphere which goes with people having a pleasant time. I enjoy the clink and dink of cutlery and crockery and the hum of conversation. What I do not enjoy is music I do not like, nor did I request, being thrust down my ear. I do not appreciate having to shout above the screeching of Madonna or, worse, some c(rap) “artist” in order to place my order or convey my pearls of wisdom to my dining companions. Or having to stretch my neck across the table to hear what they have to say, getting my necktie in the soup en route.

Why do restaurateurs in Britain think that music they like, and which (I have heard one tell me) keeps their teenage waiting staff from turning into pillars of immobility is also music I will like? And having taken the decision to impose their musical tastes on me, why do they compound the crime by turning up the volume to somewhere near rock-festival levels? Is it that the British are so reserved and timid that, if they happen to be among the first to arrive in a restaurant, they feel uncomfortable about sitting there either in silence and/or embarrassment because their muted and in any event boring domestic mutterings would otherwise be heard by other people?

Let’s allow that this may be the case, so while the restaurant is slowly filling up, by all means let the management play some gentle music so that the socially challenged British have an aural crutch to lean on. But as soon as the level of conversation reaches a certain level and the British can hide behind normal and pleasant dining noises, turn it off and leave it turned off. But have you ever asked restaurant managers please to turn down the music, or preferably, turn it off? I have. You would think I had asked them if I could do unspeakable things to their mothers.

Then there is the hurry-up-and-eat music trick. This is used by places which serve pizzas, burgers, and other “fast” foods, where the marketing people and the accountants have created an unholy alliance which centres on turning over as many covers in a given time as possible, so that profits can be maximised along with indigestion. Here’s your food, now get on with it. Gobble it down as fast as your little chops can go, and then get the hell out of here, because we want to lay that table for the next party of dyspeptics.

Go to France or Italy, or Spain and tell me you find the same thing. The fact is, you won’t, in a proper French, Italian or Spanish restaurant. You might, of course, in a French, Italian or Spanish McBurger. That’s not European at all — it’s American. Continental European restaurateurs understand what restaurants are about, and they encourage the natural sounds of people talking and eating together and taking their time over it. And if some of their customers happen to be the first to arrive, they chat happily without embarrassment or inhibition. And without music.

And then, the shops. Loudspeakers like truck-sides are positioned right at the doors and throughout the stores. This is to attract the attention of passing bimbos of both sexes, who are so inarticulate anyway that they can’t ask the (usually absent) shop-assistants for anything, so the shop managers reckon that they may as well play even worse music at even greater volume, both inside and outside their emporia.

I did an experiment recently. I walked into such a shop, and from a distance of about two feet, said, loudly, to the shop-manager, while taking in his merchandise with a sweeping gesture,

“Good morning, you prime imbecile. Why are you trying to sell this garbage to anyone?”

Over the howling of guitars and screeching, I just about made out his saying, “Wowozat”. For one ghastly time-flash, I thought he had mistaken me for a compatriot from somewhere in Asia-Minor or possibly Africa. Experiment complete. I shrugged, and moved on.

The principle seems to be “You shall have music wherever you go, like it or not.” Someone else’s choice.

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