Fortunately, in my misspent youth, I didn't go to many rock concerts, inertia's grip usually proving too strong. I say fortunately because my idea of pole position at such events was as close to the speakers as humanly possible. Incredible though it seems to me now, I actually enjoyed the juddering, stunning sensation of being physically assaulted by sound, and even savoured the aftermath of 24 hours of buzzing, ringing ears and partial deafness. If I'd subjected myself to more of these sonic onslaughts than I did, I'm sure I'd be significantly deafer. As it is, my deafness is of that frustrating kind where background hubbub makes conversation (especially in the higher registers) often impossible to follow. For this reason, I avoid noisy venues as much as I can - and for this reason I fled one such only the other night.
The occasion was a quiz night of sorts, the venue a West End bar/club with decor so vile it was like a physical assault in itself, and an acoustic calculated to create a storm of noise from even a fairly modest input of sound. Needless to say, the pre-quiz drinks-and-chat bit was accompanied by bursts of thumping music, as if the voices bouncing off every surface weren't creating enough of a din. I endured this phase manfully, with the help of faithful friend alcohol, but when the quiz finally got under way, the 'celebrity' quizmistress held the microphone close to her face and bellowed into it, like a superstitious peasant with her first telephone, rendering the questions often unintelligible. The background hubbub too seldom subsided, and the result of all this aural bombardment was that I was soon in a state of increasingly acute mental and physical discomfort, bordering on distress. I made my excuses and escaped into the cool, calm night air, and strolled away down Pall Mall, clearing my buzzing head.
Why is it, I wonder, that mere sound can become so unbearable? It certainly seems to get more so as one gets older - as witness my own progress from speaker-hugger to walker-out - but I know people much younger (especially, I find, women) who are also pained by the levels of noise that are now commonplace. To me it now feels as if I am suffering genuine physical and psychic damage when I'm subjected to too much noise for too long - which of course leads me to the opinion that the noise levels we now live with are indeed damaging us in some profound way, and might be related to the general coarsening of character and affect that seems to be characteristic of our time. I don't know if this is the case, but I certainly find it mystifying that so many people seem to relish maximal sonic bombardment, wherever they are and whatever they're doing (e.g. God help us, driving in an open-top car). Perhaps the greater mystery, though, is that many of us go through a phase in life when we positively enjoy what later is a torment and a tribulation to us.