Long time readers of this blog know that I am obsessed with space and what it means. Not the distance between stars and the size of the universe, of course, but the spaces that we live in. I have written about bathroom stalls, man caves, the private universes of cars, the space between two headphones. How we use space, the decisions and concessions we make, fascinates me as a benchmark of our culture and where it is heading. And no space interests me more than the spaces where we listen to music.
Do you have a rock room? I do and I don't.
I have a room where I like to listen to music, but that does not mean that I ever, except maybe when no one is home, get to listen to music in the room at the volume that I would like to hear it. More likely, the music is a little bit louder than a conversational level, but it is not at an "unacceptable" level and I worry about family and neighbors, if the garage door is open, if I play it too loud.
It is a room where I am now and it is getting late on a Sunday night and I am listening to Joseph Arthur (I know this post is about rooms where we listen to music, but is there any songwriter working today who has the range and depth of Joseph Arthur? It can't be many) and my room is open on the world, sending music out into the night, but not loudly, not at the volume that it was recorded and meant to be played.
And that is the point, isn't it? Music is meant to be played and heard at a certain volume, but everything around us wants to push the music back, to relegate it to the background, unless it is dance music, which is often crappy music with just a beat, and then no one challenges the volume.
So back to the room. Houses have a "living" room ( we were never allowed in ours as children), a dining room, bathrooms and bedrooms and dens, so why not a music room? Why not a listening room? Why not a rock room?
Well, here's one reason why not: listening to music at substantial volume is considered to be anti-social. If you do it, then no one can talk to you. Music, good music, cannot be allowed to do the talking. The only time that was ever allowed in a social setting was, years ago, when a bunch of people were sitting around stoned and they felt like they were getting inside the music in ways they could never explain to anyone else.
So instead, listening to music at the volume it was recorded and was meant to be played is juvenile. What mature, evolved adult could possibly want to sit in a room without speaking and just listen to the instruments and the melody and the lyrics (if any), when he or she could be having a conversation? You might get away with it if you are a classical buff becoming one with Yo-Yo Ma, but you ain't going to pull off your personal moments with Tom Petty. It's just too loud. It shakes the rafters. It's just rock music.
Yeah, I/we could listen to headphones. That is not an unrewarding experience. But I would ask a related question: when is the last time you were able to do extended listening on headphones without being interrupted?
I finish with two anecdotes. The first happens at many gas stations around where I live. Chances are, if you stop to get gas, someone near you or next to you is going to pull up, stop his car (it is a male) and continue to blast hip-hop music at mind-numbing, F--- you volume, seemingly indifferent to the circumstances of anyone around him. And you, and everyone around you is going to give at least a sideways WTF glance at the guy, like, how dare you intrude like this? I'm susceptible to that, but I also recognize that a guy is just rockin' and doesn't want to concede that.
My other anecdote is a memory. When my wife was a social worker back in the 80s, we knew another couple whe she was a social worker and he was I cant remember, but what I do remember was a room in their home where there must have been 3000 albums and the means to listen to them--great stereo and speakers and an attitude in the room that said, this room is for whatever music I feel like playing--Jazz, blues, acoustic, classical, rock, anything. THAT was a rock room.