start me up and never stop (you make your neighbors cry)

Es­ti­mated reading time is 8 min­utes.

IF YOU START ME UP I’LL NEVER STOP. In 1970 (a few years be­fore Mick had written these lyrics), I moved into my first apart­ment with two roommates—the now leg­endary 260 South Main (you had to be there). It was the top floor of a very old building in Wilkes-Barre, Penn­syl­vania, and the other res­i­dents in­cluded your typ­ical as­sort­ment of winos, junkies, and low-end working girls.

I had only re­cently taken up weight-lifting and was oc­ca­sion­ally care­less in my work­outs. During my first week in my new digs, I dropped a bar­bell with 100 pounds of weight on it from a height of about three feet. 

It crashed loudly to the floor and must have sounded like a plane crashing to the neigh­bors below.

Fearing that I might piss off my neigh­bors, I ran down­stairs and knocked on the door of the unit below mine. An older man an­swered and when I apol­o­gized he just laughed. “Sonny, this building’s al­most as old as I am. The walls and floors are so thick that I didn’t hear a damn thing. You could have a party up there and I’d never know.”

So, I am opening this posting with this snippet from my folder of “260 South Main Street Sto­ries” to make a point: even as a young whipper-snapper (I was in my first year of col­lege in 1970), I was aware that I could be a source of ir­ri­ta­tion to my neigh­bors by making too much noise.



Why does it have to be so damn loud?!?

The era of fellow cit­i­zens playing ex­ces­sively loud, bottom-heavy music—you know, the stuff with the bass cranked up so loud your teeth rattle—has been with us for decades. The music played at these headache-producing levels is in­vari­ably some form of hip-hop, al­though I have heard the oc­ca­sional head-banging stuff at assault-like levels. (And I am not passing any judg­ment on aes­thetics here. This is about noise, not ‘art.’)

I have long con­sid­ered this to be a form of cultural/generational passive-aggressive be­havior. I think that those ar­se­holes (and they seem to al­ways to be what ap­pears to be emo­tion­ally stunted males) who pull up along­side me at a red light with their music louder than mine—even with my win­dows closed!—are re­ally looking for an al­ter­ca­tion but don’t want to be ac­cused of starting a fight. (um, ain’t that called passive-aggressive?)

Sim­i­larly, I can’t count the number of times that I have had new neigh­bors move into the apart­ment below mine and within a matter of days—sometimes hours—I find my­self knocking on their door re­questing that they turn their bass down. Again, it is al­most al­ways young men, and al­most al­ways white. White be­cause I tend to live where the woman in my life wants to live and that is NEVER in the city, but al­ways on the out­skirts or the ac­tual suburbs.


I’ve been run­ning hot. You got me ticking gonna blow my top. If you start me up, if you start me up I’ll never stop, never stop, never stop, never never never stop!


I used to give these people a grace pe­riod, as they had just moved in and were prob­ably ex­cited about their new digs. But my being tol­erant al­most al­ways had the op­po­site ef­fect: they took for granted that what they had gotten away with for a few weeks was a right that they had to con­tinue being loud and un­ruly when­ever they wanted to!

This led me to a cer­tain con­clu­sion: anyone who is ob­nox­ious enough to crank up their stereo or bass ALL THE WAY for ANY reason is ob­nox­ious enough NOT to give a damn about their neigh­bors!

I as­sume that more than a few readers have had the same re­sponse to the same sit­u­a­tion in their lives. I have sev­eral killer anec­dotes about my in­ter­ac­tions with these people (who are often openly hos­tile, even to po­lite, un­der­stated re­quests), but today I just want to relay my fa­vorite one.

Please keep in mind that every­thing hap­pened just as I de­scribe it below—there is no hy­per­bole here, my dear.



New neighbors, same old problems

It was twenty years ago today and we were in the third (top) floor unit of a nice com­plex in Bellevue, Wash­ington. As neigh­bors, we had one unit on one side and an­other below us, but the other three sides were open to the air that we breathe. A couple of young guys (naturlich) moved into the place be­neath us and on their second day their music came on, bass a-booming. Framed pic­tures on my wall began to shake rattle and roll.

As usual, the issue was the set­ting of their bass con­trol (HIGH) on their brand new, pre-packaged sound system with its high wattage tuner.

(Just writing those words has me thinking: have I ever en­coun­tered anyone of these ar­se­holes who had a set-up that even nodded in the di­rec­tion of au­dio­phile gear? The first step to­ward audiophile-related be­havior is usu­ally pur­chasing a sep­a­rate pre-amp and amplifier—although it was prob­ably hearing records through a pair of re­ally good loud­speakers that at­tracted most novices to high-end equipment.)

As I said, in most cases of audio passive-aggressive be­havior, it is usu­ally the level of the bass that sends me an­grily out the door to con­front the neigh­bors. Oddly, many of these people have their volume con­trol set at rea­son­able levels.

When my neighbor opened the door, I could see a pair of speakers set in the two upper cor­ners in the back of the living room. That is, their loud­speakers were mounted up against their ceiling, which is the other side of my floor. No wonder they sounded so loud! (And, I would later learn that there were two more speakers in the upper front cor­ners of the room that I could not see at the time.)


Anyone who is ob­nox­ious enough to crank it up all the way for ANY reason is ob­nox­ious enough NOT to give a damn about their neighbors!


I po­litely asked him to turn down his bass and added, “You can leave the volume where it’s at, just turn down the bass.”

He looked at me with a face set in neutral—no smile would be forth­coming here!—and said, “It’s my roommate’s stereo; I don’t know how to turn the bass down.”

“No problem!” I re­sponded, not be­lieving him but knowing that I was going to have to go through the mo­tions. “I can show you how to do that in a second.”

“My room­mate doesn’t want anyone touching his stereo but me,” he said.

“No problem!” I re­sponded again. “I’ll show you the bass con­trol and you turn it down.”

In­stead of al­lowing me to treat him like the vil­lage idiot, he said he’d turn it off until his roomie re­turned. And he did! Need­less to say, the whole scene was played out again the next day, only this time the passive-aggressive be­havior worked—I was angry. So in­stead of Madman Neal con­fronting two ap­par­ently hos­tile guys, Berni went down to ask them to turn down their bass.

Again, she did not com­plain about the volume.

Again, they turned it down.

For a while.

Then cranked it back up.



Fan­blewdy­tastic car­i­ca­ture of every­body’s fa­vorite bad geezers by artist Se­bas­tian Cast.

You got me ticking gonna blow my top

While my family re­mem­bers my some­times ex­plo­sive child­hood temper, the people that I have known as friends and work­place as­so­ciates for the past thirty years know me as a man with a loooooooooong, sloooooooooow burning fuse. I rarely get angry and rarely fight with anyone (ex­cept Berni). So, I put up with the music that day and made plans for re­venge for the next day when I knew one of them would be home as he worked a nights.

The next morning, when I as­sumed my neighbor would be asleep, I placed my two B&W DM-14 speakers face down, one on the floor of my living room, the other on the floor above their bed­room. I slid TATTOO YOU into my Philips CD player, which sent its signal through a Crown Straightline-2 pre-amp and then into a pair of NAD 2200 power-amps bridged to mono.

My CD player (an early ‘80s model) could only re­play the same track eigh­teen times in a row, so I set Start Me Up—a track with a POUNDING bass—to play eigh­teen times in a row and then I turned the bass and volume UP SO LOUD that I couldn’t stay in my own apartment!

So, I headed across the street to the Cross­roads Mall and drank some coffee and read a book for an hour be­fore re­turning home.

I never heard their stereo again.

In fact, they moved out after their six-month lease was up. I prefer to be­lieve that my rude, ob­nox­ious be­havior played an ac­tive part in their decision.



Other modern noises

I have NEVER heard clas­sical music or jazz or country or straight pop being played ob­nox­iously loud. Hell’s Belles, I’ve never heard ‘old’ rock & roll (say, pre-1970s) played THAT LOUD! Well, ex­cept maybe at par­ties, and then usu­ally in houses where there was yard space be­tween the music and the neighbors.

Of course, I as­sume that such was NOT the case in apart­ment build­ings around the country—it just wasn’t part of my ex­pe­ri­ence. Also, what was con­sid­ered loud in 1974 would sound rather re­strained in 2014.



FEATURED IMAGE: Fi­nally and tan­gen­tially, in 2007, the new Tim Rob­bins movie Noise was given a lim­ited re­lease to mixed re­views and al­most no box of­fice ac­tion. Few people know of this movie’s ex­is­tence, but Rob­bins’ char­acter cap­tures my out­rage and anger with just the right touch of satire and black humor. Highly rec­om­mended if you are a Tim Rob­bins fan or are con­stantly pissed off at car alarms going off in­ces­santly at all hours of the day and wish that you could do some­thing about it—even if it meant breaking a few laws . . .


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good story neal, that’s what i call a thumper.