A note about noise
People like to say that if you complain about loud music, it’s because you’re getting old, but that’s not true. As an underage 15-year-old in Peig’s nightclub, near Trinity College, I’d sometimes go to sleep in a corner, worn out by the pressures of attempting conversation. It would be unseemly to do that now of course (however tempting a little social snooze might sometimes be): but I continue to dislike screaming at friends and battling physical stress to overcome the high decibels that pubs pump out in their attempts to appear lively, and more cynically, to compel us, their gentle patrons, to drink.
A few weeks ago in Dublin I was on a night out at Shebeen Chic — an excellent new bar that’s almost aggressively cool. I sat at a table of five. The music was such that you could only speak to one person at a time, and then you had to shout as fiercely as your vocal chords would allow, alternating that with cocking an ear to your interlocutor with the extrasensory perceptiveness of a well-trained pet. As a result, one person was always excluded from the chat, reduced to smiling amicably from across the table. The decor was atmospheric, the people seemed friendly (though minus conversation that was hard to verify) — what a waste!
The friend I was with that night has posted a note about it on her blog. I’ve unearthed a feature I wrote for J-School last year, about (and against) noisy bars in New York. In researching the piece I spoke to psychologists, audiologists, musicians, activists and bartenders; most of them were worried about what is happening to people’s hearing. In New York, it’s not just bars — you have the screech and yowl of subways too.
There are some antidotes to all this. A friend of a friend has written a book on the best places to find peace and quiet in New York (I believe it’s been so popular that it’s actually become a series); plus, as I conducted my Noise research I discovered a bar called Burp Castle. It’s so named because patrons are meant to focus on worshipping beer, and the bartenders — dressed as monks — shush you if you raise your voice. Draconian that might seem, but it makes for a wonderful ambiance. And that’s something I’ll raise my glass of wine to — defiantly civilized and quiet.