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 . . .