The Truth, Mainly - 04/07/1997

Understanding music: Did Grunge Rock make them do it?
by Leon Satterfield

Good news. I've finally figured out those two court cases — both reported by the Associated Press — that we've all been so puzzled about for the last two weeks.

The first, in Wichita you remember, involved a young man on trial for robbing a shoe store. He casually propped his feet up on the defense table, thereby inadvertently showing the judge and jury the tan hiking boots he was accused of stealing. "I leaned over and stared," the judge said. "Surely nobody would be so stupid as to wear the boots he stole to his trial."

The second, in Memphis, began as a matter of two traffic offenses. The 18-year-old defendant raised his hand to be sworn in, thereby dislodging a packet of cocaine which fell out of his shirt pocket onto the courtroom floor. It was noticed. "Unbelievable," said the judge. "Stupidity," said the defense attorney.

The easy explanation here is that it's all the fault of the schools for not teaching phonics, but I dig deeper. I come up with a hypothesis.

My guess is that both these guys have listened to too much Grunge Rock.

I'm not sure I'd know Grunge Rock if I heard it. I associate it with loud strange sounds. I do remember hearing something loud and strange—it may have been Grunge Rock—a couple of years ago just before I said "Gee, doctor, a sigmoidoscopy sounds like a lot of fun. When can I come in?"

I have since read some startling research in "Nature" that suggests a cause-effect relationship between music and IQ. Music is the cause; IQ is the effect.

The researchers reported that the mean IQ of a group of California students went up by eight or nine points after they'd listened to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K448). They speculated that the complexity of Mozart's music enhances abstract reasoning and makes the listener smarter.

They further theorized that listening to music less complex—and they specifically mentioned Grunge Rock—make the listener dumber.

My guess is that Bill Clinton overdosed on Grunge Rock just before renting out the Lincoln Bedroom as a Big Bucks Special, that George Bush immersed himself in Grunge Rock just before he decided to jump out of an airplane again, that Newt Gingrich wallowed in Grunge Rock just before he forgot he wasn't President and promised the Chinese we'd attack them if they messed with Taiwan.

Having thought all that out, I relax by turning on the hi-fi and listening—not coincidentally of course—to a little Mozart. And under that benign influence, I have an epiphany:

Mozart's tunes can be used to solve our social problems.

Take, for example, the problem of keeping underaged kids, not yet addicted, from buying cigarettes.

Why not, I think, require all cigarette retail outlets to play Mozart on their P.A. systems? Why not retool cigarette vending machines so they dispense five minutes of the Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K448) before they dispense a pack of coffin nails?

There would be one of two effects, both salutary:

(1)Before they could resist, underage buyers' IQs would rise to the level that they wouldn't want cigarettes in the first place, or

(2)The first chord or two of Mozart would drive them away screaming and holding their ears in approximately the same way rodents are supposed to be driven away screaming and holding their ears by those high-pitched squeals coming out of electronic rodent repellers.

Think the second effect wouldn't happen? Consider how Bernie Naiman solved his loitering problem last summer in Denver. Bernie owns a building downtown that houses several businesses including two diamond cutting shops, two jewelry stores, a circumcision emporium, and a McDonald's.

Trouble was, teenagers hanging out in front of McDonald's were alarming patrons of the other businesses (although I can't imagine someone going in for a circumcision, which must rank right up there with a sigmoidoscopy, being alarmed by mere loiterers). What could Bernie do?

My guess is that he went home and listened to some Mozart on the hi-fi. Anyway, he came up with a great idea: he installed a sound system with outdoor speakers on his building and began playing classical music—an aria from "Pagliacci," a bit from "La Traviata," and so forth.

By the time he got to the real killer piece, Beethoven's "Symphonie Pastorale," the kids were all outta there, screaming and holding their ears.

No law suits. No civil rights violations. No bloodshed.

Apply the same solution to cigarette sales and Bingo! No more new smokers, no matter how cool Joe Camel is.

Well, yes it is a good idea, isn't it? But I don't expect any Good Citizen Award. It's not me talking; it's Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K448).


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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