A bunch of us boys were whoopin’ it up in the old Malamute saloon – actually, it wasn’t the old Malamute saloon, it was a coffee shop near the health club where we work out three times a week. And we aren’t really “boys,” at least one of us having lived through the comings and goings of 15 presidents. And OK, it’s been a while since any of us has “whooped.”
Nitpicking aside, while we were munching on the doughnuts that would make it necessary to not miss our next session, my friend Bob wondered how the rest of us felt about the music that constantly plays at the club, undoubtedly with the intent of giving us a rhythm with which to time our grunts and groans.
“Music?” Don asked. “Hard rock? Rap? That’s not music. It’s noise.”
“Who picks that stuff, anyway?” Neil wanted to know.
“Whoever’s working the front desk,” I said. “Don’t forget, the employees are a lot younger than we are. To them the music they play is contemporary.”
Truth is, I don’t hear anything I don’t want to. I discovered I had this ability some time ago. I was in the living room watching television and my wife and daughter were doing “girl talk” at the other end of the room when, suddenly, Pam shouted, “Dad!”
I peeled myself off the ceiling, looked at her and asked, “What?”
“We’re talking to you!”
“How was I supposed to know that?” I asked. “I thought you were just talking to each other.”
My wife, Mary, shook her head sadly. “This happens a lot lately,” she said. “I wonder if you’re starting to lose your hearing.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing,” I insisted, but they weren’t convinced. After a lot of badgering, I caved in and made an appointment with an audiologist. “Why are you here?” he asked me.
“Because my wife and daughter think I’m going deaf,” I replied, letting my tone render the idea preposterous.
After running my audio antennae through a prolonged sequence of testing, the specialist delivered his verdict. “It’s as I suspected,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with your hearing, other than that you’ve trained yourself to do what we call ‘selective’ hearing. You tune out what you consider extraneous noise.”
“Aha!” I exulted, and hurried home to pass along my triumphant news to Pam and Mary. Big mistake. Neither of them took kindly to learning that I considered the sound of their voices “extraneous” noise.
On the way home from the coffee shop, I reran the conversation about modern music through my mind, then began to recall some of the music we used to consider “contemporary,” which the younger members at the club might consider just “noise.”
The first one that came to mind went, “Chi-baba, chi-baba, chihuahua, enjilava, kooka la goomba, chi-baba, chi-baba, chihuahua, my bambino, go to sleep” (Perry Como, 1947). Not exactly deathless prose, but it was No. 1 on Billboard for three weeks. Going back a little further, we had, “Hut sut rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla, suet,” made very popular in 1941 by Horace Heidt & His Musical Knights. Or “Mairsy Doats” or “Rama Lama Ding Dong.”
They don’t write songs like that anymore. Wikipedia calls these types of ditties “novelty” songs. As I recall, my parents thought they were silly. Maybe what they play at the health club isn’t so bad after all.