Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

05 April 2008

How do you want that ee-oww?

Rootin’ through the files today, I came across the yellowed manuscript of a piece I did for some publication, at some time, somewhere in a galaxy far, far away. Since I’m still suffering heartburn from a restaurant experience of several evenings ago, I am in a sufficiently bilious mood to resurrect it here as a spleen-venting exercise. Bear with me as I ask —

How do you want that ee-oww? Medium or rare?

First, a disclaimer: I am not a music-hater.

Witness: I have always been in the vanguard of those who are stirred by the majesty of opera and the tuxedoed symphony. Who thrill to the pomp and circumstance of a marching band. Who feel the excitement and drive in rock. Who tap their toes to jazz. Who get all gooey over country. Who visualize elegant ballrooms when they hear Strauss. Who want to croon along with Der Bingle and Ole Blue-Eyes.

Clincher: I earned a good part of my way through college doing the piano in a Dixieland quintet — and still take great joy in whaling the tar out of the likes of “My Blue Heaven,” and “Honeysuckle Rose,” and “Saints,” and “Bill Bailey” when I’m alone and there’s nobody to hear how severely the subsequent years have dealt with my dexterity and style.

So then, with these credentials on the table, I now feel licensed to segue into music’s Dark Side — that dreary wasteland in which music ceases to be an expression of humanity’s humanity and becomes instead the stuff of torture.

A bit of context:

Og, a primordial esthete with time on his hands, discovered that chow goes down better when there are pleasant sounds in the air. “While you folks eat, I’ll rub these stretched strings,” Og announced at a tribal feast, “and you’ll notice that, thanks to the noise they make, the filet of dinosaur seems to take on flavor.”

“By Jingo, Og’s right,” was the consensus, and thus was dinner music born.

Over the ages, as societies became more sophisticated, the concept, too, underwent many refinements. Strings continued to be rubbed, to be sure, but they gradually improved in quality, so that their tonals grew more mellow, precise, and complex. Eventually the process achieved its most exquisite form in European hotel dining rooms, where the cuisine was made more haute by the unobtrusive moaning of violins and cellos.

During the first third of my life, this idea of elegance and rich subtlety seemed to dominate the background music heard in those places where citizens met to chomp. Even in Alís Diner, the once-over-lights and the corned beef hash were accompanied by a radio on the back bar, always tuned to the local music station that was unashamedly dedicated to fine music. It was always soft, unobtrusive, and at Alís it seemed to work a minor miracle. While diners of those days almost always resounded with bustling and clatter and rambunctiousness, Alís was roughly comparable to an upscale dining room, in that voices were muted, the wait staff moved with balletic grace, the busboys rarely dumped the dirty dishes into the tin sink, instead placing them there in quiet precision. Why? Because the aromas of steaming pot roast and frying onions and toasting bread were infused with the restraint and dignity of strings, reeds and muted brass.

Somewhere in the second third of my life, loud became good. It was the age of protest and campus riots and Woodstock and rock, the harder the better. Lyrics were no longer sung, they were shouted, primarily to rise above the incessant howling of the glazed-eyed, stringy-haired, bad-smelling clientele. The easy, loping steps of couples snuggling romantically had been abandoned in favor of self-enamored separation and wriggling — with the separation often so extreme it was difficult to decide which girl was dancing with which guy, and the dance floor itself looking much like an arena filled with jumping-jack gladiators warming up for the main event.

Restaurant music followed suit, with the mutterings of polite Musak and elevator music giving way to eee-ow, bangity-bang, rickety-ticky, bash-cling, eeeeee-oww pouring down from ceiling fixtures to rattle table settings and make waves in water glasses and render cogent conversation totally impossible.

Tonight a friend and I stopped off for a leisurely dinner at an attractive restaurant. If the food was good, you canít prove it by me, since I was so busy resenting the godawful din pouring out of the tweeters and whoofers and whompers and whatevers directly above my chicken Alfredo.

What exactly is it, I wonder, that causes reasonably intelligent restaurateurs to overlook the psychological and gustatory demolitions caused by eee-owww? It seems impossible that so many of them really enjoy it themselves. But wait. Those Iíve seen are usually graying baby-boomers. Which makes it altogether possible they were sufficiently deafened as headset-wearing children to believe the ee-oww of today is distant thunder, or the slamming of doors in the parking lot outside. Maybe — —

Oh the hell with it.

If I could somehow have established temporary immunity against the laws of battery, Iíd have taken the restaurateur outside and pelted him with the pile of Alfredo denied me by his ee-oww dingabingo oodly toodle fash clank.

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.