I’m back at the Hilton Garden Inn in Singapore’s Little India and it’s mostly a nice place to be. But I had forgotten about the swimming pool. It’s a bit weird that it’s right outside the dining hall so people eating are watching half-naked people swimming. Or not, as I actually haven’t seen anyone in the pool yet except me.
But far worse is the fact that they pump out non-stop insipid American pop music. No problem when I’m swimming, but part of the package is to relax in the lounge chair with a good book and with this sonic nightmare, relaxing is simply impossible. I started to try to analyze what makes this music (don’t ask me what it is or who’s singing it) so unbearable to listen to. Weirdly, I’ve been pushing the notion that music brings you into a world where everything is connected, everything makes sense, its rhythms tone the body, its melodies pluck the heart’s strings, its form awakens our mathematical mind. But now I take it all back. Certain rhythms can deplete the body’s energy, certain melodies shut down the heart instead of open it, certain forms put the mind to sleep. And the poolside music was three for three.
After a few moments trying to describe the maddening thumping disco beat, what makes the vocal timbres and pseudo-melodies so insufferable, what predictable formulas and banal lyrics bypass the thinking mind, I gave up and decided it was a fruitless task. When you open a carton of rotten eggs, analysis of why they smell bad is the last thing on your mind. Throw the damn things out and get away from it as fast as you can!
After an evening swim, I raced indoors to have dinner, though the agony was still audible. Suddenly, the Byrds came on singing Mr. Tambourine Man and it was as if the runaway car bound for Hell was suddenly diverted to the Elysian Fields. For 3 brief minutes, life was good again. And then back it came.
Don't get me wrong—the issue is not Pop music vs. classical or folk—after all, Ella and Billie were the popular singers singing the popular songs of their time and how happy do those songs make me? And the era of the Byrds and Bob Dylan and—oh, around 75 other fabulous groups—churned out some pretty listenable and endurable music.
So I imagined some genie emerging from a bottle and offering this deal:
“Okay, you have two choices here.
1. For every minute you spend listening to Bach or Billie or the blues, you have to spend a comparable amount of time listening to Singapore swimming pool music.
2. All music will vanish from the world.”
Right now, I’m leaning toward 2.