On Friday night, my wife Teresa and I attended the world’s largest cake fight, held at the UCCU Center at UVU. When I saw the banners advertising the event, I was an instant sell. Teresa and I had also attended what was, at the time, the world’s largest water balloon fight at BYU. It was glorious. So I didn’t have to think twice about the lovely prospect of standing in the midst of a thousand cake missiles. We even purchased premium tickets so that we would have the privilege of being the ones to hurl the cake.
I admire the people who made this event happen, a service to the community that was undoubtedly a labor of love. And what a labor it must have been to clean up such a mess! By the time the last wad of cake was hurled, the floor was covered in a thick, gray sludge, so oily that one could slide around. As we evacuated the building, covered in frosting, everyone had a smile on his face, and it was clear that such a celebration of life had made the world a better place.
Having said all that, I wish to expound on the horror that preceded the bliss. This is in no way a criticism of the good people who put this wonderful event together but of a broad, societal phenomenon. I wish to speak of what is now termed music and dancing.
The event started at 8:30 PM. The official description was vague, so only upon entering the building and speaking to some of the coordinators did we realize that the cake fight wouldn’t take place until midnight. While this was disappointing, our children were spending the night at their grandparents’ house, so why not enjoy a good three hours of dancing?
When we entered the indoor stadium, however, we found the music off-putting. The DJ was blasting heavy … gangster stuff. While I ask you to pardon my ignorance of the proper terminology, I think you can imagine a grinding, distorted bass, relentless boom-booms, and angry, shouting, male vocals. Somewhere in the vicinity of rap, hiphop, and dubstep, these in-your-face slams, blasting at ear-splitting decibels, could have a certain appeal … under the right circumstances … for a limited time. While not our cup of tea, we could at least enjoy moving our bodies to a common beat until something more in line with our preferences came along. After all, there were still three hours to go, and with such a vast world of music to draw from, we looked forward to the classic hits, the jazz, the slow dances, the party songs, and maybe even a little country.
Only the boom-booms just kept going … and going. Interesting to note, over the course of the evening, I don’t recall hearing a single instrument. Every sound was synthesized. Every vocal was pitch-corrected and heavily processed, almost robotic. The sounds were disheveled, chaotic, crazy. When, on occasion, we made out the lyrics of the current angry gangster … they were horrible: rude, profane, sexually explicit, degrading to women.
Though Teresa and I were only inches apart, the cacophony was so loud, we soon grew hoarse from shouting to each other just to talk. We had to get away. Moving to the other end of the stadium wasn’t enough. To find somewhere quiet enough to think, we had to go to the end of a hallway, into a stair well, und up a few floors. Even there we weren’t free from the omnipresent thumps of the bass, but at least we could talk.
As we passed the time, a lot of people would go up and down the stairs, and we overheard conversations. One was about all the “grinding” that was going on in the dance. In the tight crowds, men were forcing themselves against the dancing women in front of them. Lovely.
From time to time, Teresa and I heard the beginning of something we actually wanted to dance to. A-ha’s “Take on Me”, Europe’s “The Final Countdown” or the Champs’ “Tequila”. We ran back into the stadium and started busting out our swing moves. But within seconds, the merciless DJ’s would corrupt the classics by mixing in more boom-booms and … gangster stuff … until the songs were nothing but the latter. Teresa and I would then walk back out, deflated.
In our defense, the music wasn’t really danceable. It sounded as if it was made by drunken chimpanzees banging on garbage cans. How were supposed to move to such chaos? I mean, no one else was really dancing. They were just doing their mosh thing like a throbbing amoeba.
I know I must sound snobby. But believe me, I tried to dance to this stuff. Wanting to experience the rave culture, I spent many songs in the midst of the moshing crowd, waving my arms, hopping up and down, and trying, whole-heartedly, to submit myself to the gods of fornication. But I just couldn’t find the appeal. I realized, then, why older generations have never been able to connect to modern music. (And yes, clocking in at a whopping thirty-four years, I was one of the oldest in this crowd of young, beautiful college students. There were a few older couples at first, but when they discovered what the night was about, they took off running.)
The reason that older generations struggle with embracing popular music is because they know too much. We know that there used to be a thing called chord progressions. It used to require instruments to make music. In the days of yore, vocalists used to sing, and lyricists were required to have something to say (besides about sex). All in all, the music was supposed to move the listener, inspiring them with emotions (besides anger and … well … sexuality isn’t really even an emotion). When one reached the end of a song, there used be a sense of conclusion, catharsis, progress. Music didn’t have to be “cool.” It could be warm. It could make people feel good. You could move to it, because it had a sense of direction.
As Back Eyed Peas apply put it:
“They don’t want music,
They don’t know how to use it.
All they want, a boom boom boom boom.”
I found myself staring at the man on the stand, the DJ, who was throwing up his gangster arms before the moshing crowd. “Should we turn it up?” he would shout. “You want more?” Unfortunately, there was no real way for the crowd to express themselves. Whether we shouted, “Yes!” or (as I did), “This music sucks!” The cumulative effect was always the same: more noise. And that was all the validation the DJ needed.
This is why I’ve always hated DJ’s. They have too much power. They alone can subject the minds of hundreds to their bombarding whims. And they just seem so spineless, religiously pandering to the latest consensus of what’s “cool.” I’m sure there’s good DJ’s out there; they just seem to be few and far between. And on this trying night, there were, in my book, three exceptionally bad ones.
As the event appeared to be a competition between them, each was bent on outdoing the other with louder, crazier, and even more in-your-face gangster stuff. And nothing but gangster stuff. The music would frequently cut out as the DJ’s would shout, “One, two, three, four!” But what were they counting toward? It was just more boom-boom.
During one of mine and Teresa’s first escapes from the hysteria, we were in an elevator with other people. I wanted them to hear me as I made disparaging remarks such as, “I can’t imagine hell sounding any worse than that.” Or, “Each one of those songs crucifies Mozart anew.”
When we were in private, an embarrassed Teresa chastised me. “What good are you doing?” she asked.
I replied something to the effect of, “Does anyone actually like this stuff? Or do they just accept it because everyone seems to think it’s cool? It’s the crowd mentality at its worst, an instance where democracy fails miserably and none of us are as dumb as all of us. The only way to cut the circle is if we speak out. Then maybe others will too. We need to make it cool to express how terrible this music is. I know we’re not going to make a difference, but it’s the principle that counts.”
We had a long talk in the car. While Teresa agreed with me, she didn’t want to be in public with me if I was going to act like this, and in the end, I agreed to keep my feelings to myself. Reluctantly (because it was freezing cold outside), we went back to the dance.
But as the evening progressed with more of the same booming torture, Teresa began to lose it too. With a look of exasperation, she started doing interpretative dances of the crazy sounds, her eyes open wide, her teeth barred, her fingers outstretched. Like the freaky gangster dancers, she got in my face as if hexing me. It was funny. At least it should have been. The whole evening was so sardonic, it was hard to figure out why no one was laughing at the irony of it all.
Toward the end of the long wait, as I was half-heartedly moving my body to the boom-booms, Teresa reached her snapping point. She apologized for chastising me. “You were right,” she said. “People need to speak out against this.” Then, as another gangster man shouted more sexually-charged lyrics, Teresa said, “All I can hear are giant penises. I want to castrate them. All of them.” When, at last, the cake was distributed, she threw it at the crowd with unbridled fury. She said it was very cathartic. In fact, her arm still hurts from throwing a little too hard.
I’m going to end with a quote from my upcoming novel, Gideon Versus the Gods of Cool:
“Gideon imagines it takes a guitar to make that noise, though it certainly doesn’t sound musical. If not for the agonized scream of a human voice – or something that resembles a human – the sound would be indistinguishable from radio static.
“Meanwhile the adherents to this bizarre noise look on in reverence.
“Gideon wouldn’t mind them if they didn’t force everyone to submit their minds to their hellish droning. As is, the relentless noise beats upon him like crashing waves. There’s something alive in that sound, a demonic creature trying to pound its way into his skull.”
As Mozart put it, “Music must never offend the ear, but must please the listener, or, in other words, must never cease to be music.” Unfortunately, it seems, they no longer play music at dances.
On the positive note, I can’t imagine how popular music could possibly get worse. Surely, having hit rock bottom, we’re at a turning point, and future musicologists will refer to our time as a dark age (not because there’s a shortage of good music but because the crowds are too inane to appreciate it). If you’d like to hear less Eminem and more Mozart at public dances, if you also believe that the word dance has lost its meaning and that our swing-dancing grandparents would scoff at this societal breakdown, this reductio ad absurdum, then please share this article.