Living Out Loud

Music to My Ears


What do you think about music? I'm not sure I understand the subtle, almost pathological appeal music has in practically every society in the world. Children love to sing and are often prodded into reluctant performances by their elders. It is a rare church service which contains no music. Who knows how many billions of dollars are generated each year by the industry surrounding the art form. Some of the wealthiest and most well-known people in the world got that way by being able to do nothing more than make sounds the rest of us like to listen to. Their wealth doesn't seem to provoke the same irate jealousy as that of, say, professional athletes. Some liberal arts colleges still require a music appreciation course as a graduation requirement.

When it comes to popular music, there seem to be two distinct categories. I belong to the group of people who enable radio stations to label their content "classic rock". It is folks like me who provide an audience for the Rolling Stones, touring now with an average age greater than that of the president of the United States. I like nothing more than knowing all of the words to a song I'm listening to so that I may sing loudly and off key in accompaniment.  Most of the music I purchased in high school still appeals to me.

Others cringe at the thought of ever listening to the words to "Sweet Home Alabama" ever again. They liken listening to Credence Clearwater Revival to watching black and white reruns of the "Beverly Hillbillies". It is these listeners who push the envelope of popular culture. They are the ones who popularize the singers the Republicans complain about. Without them we would still be listening to Org the caveman clacking two rocks together. Progress is a good thing.

Often, I've inquired as to someone's favorite type of music and been told, "I like all kinds of music…except rap (or country, or heavy metal, or Slovakian ukulele sonatas). " My conclusion is it is easier to figure out what one detests than it is to narrow down a number one choice. 

Once, when I still worked in the prison system (in the 80s) I was assigned to transport two inmates to a county jail located some three hours from our unit. Their first question as I searched them prior to the journey was "Hey, police. What we gonna listen to?"

I smiled and said nothing.

They began to take turns guessing out loud.


I smiled and shook my head.

"Heavy metal rock and roll?"

With pursed lips I shook my head again.

Hopefully, the larger of the two asked, "You listen to hiphop?"

"No" I answered

Growing desperate, the little one said, in terror, "Man, you not gonna make us listen to classical music, are you? That's cruel and unusual punishment. We got rights!"

As I assisted them getting into the back of the car, I could feel the tension starting to build. As I was traveling without another officer, this was not a welcome development. Still, no inmate was going to tell me what to play on my own radio.

As I turned the dial to the local public radio station to listen to catch the entirety of "Morning Edition" on NPR, I could hear them muttering in the rear as they prepared to sleep the trip away. "That's a cold mother. Damn police don't even listen to music."