Music hath powers …

Round about 1967-68, the then-husband and I, and our infant son, lived in the converted attic of a house in Berkeley. The apartment was wonderful and the downstairs landlady sweet and kind (she wanted to rent to a couple with children!), but she had a stroke and had to move to San Francisco to be closer to her son, and so the downstairs was rented out. When the new tenants moved in, we went down to introduce ourselves. The tenant was a psychiatric social worker (hereinafter PSW) from the neighboring county, who was not friendly. Neither was her huge and scary boyfriend (hereinafter SB), who rode a very large, very noisy hog.

I should mention that neither my then-husband nor I are large people. Short, in fact. He worked indoors and I was student, so also we were pasty. And the kid was less than a year old. Threatening? Us? Hah!

We soon learned that the PSW owned one LP, a version of Lohengrin apparently recorded in a Swiss sanatorium. She would get home at about 6:30 pm on Friday, put it on, crank it up, and play it without cease until she left for work on Monday morning. [This may have been the reason her boyfriend wasn’t friendly, but who am I to ascribe psychological reasons to a non-politician’s behavior?] Our entire apartment acted like a sounding box. We politely asked her to turn it down. The SB glowered. We went back upstairs. Husband, who worked in radio, borrowed a couple of mongo speakers from the station and strung them up facing the wall in the downstairs landing, which fronted her livingroom. We then found a recording of two favorite Spike Jones pieces: Il Barkio (an opera starring dogs) and Der Fuehrer’s Face. Husband dubbed them onto a continuous tape loop, put it on the Ampex, and cranked up the sound. It was … impressive.

Il Barkio

Der Fuhrer’s Face

The PSW cranked up her sound. We cranked up ours. She cranked up hers. We cranked up ours. She beat on her ceiling with a broomstick. We bounced a golf ball on the floor. We both stopped at midnight, by mutual but unspoken consent, for fear the neighbors would call the cops.

The next day, still all steamed up, we marched downstairs to confront her. She opened her front door, shrieking, but before we could respond the SB put his arm over her shoulder, pushed her back, and said, “Hey, man, where’d you get the Spike Jones?”

That relationship didn’t last much longer, but the noise level never reached such heights again.

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