The other night while attempting to navigate my way through the crowd at a local music venue, my forward motion was impeded, not by a music fan standing idle in my path, but by the overstuffed book bag hanging off of his back.
My knee-jerk reaction to the look of disdain in his eyes as I pushed through, causing his backpack to bend sideways, was “Really dude? A backpack? We’re in a bar.” My next thought was what on earth could one possibly need to carry around late at night that requires this level of luggage?
The guy didn’t look (or smell) homeless, although many of the twenty-something’s sporting ridiculous thrift-store clothing combinations would like you to believe they are, at minimum, poor. He likely left his cozy bunk-bed basement room on Signal Mountain a year or so ago to “rough it” in the “real world” by couch-surfing and making lattes at Starbucks. The college fund, in the meantime, is earning more interest than he evokes on any given day. And then there’s his backpack.
Just for fun, I spent the next few minutes trying to speculate on the contents of his runaway pack. Surely there were a few flannel shirts, a pair or two of double-knit polyester pants, tube socks and a toothbrush. Because he wasn’t wearing one, there had to be a trucker’s cap in there emblazoned with the logo of some random, irrelevant product he’s never purchased, like Tide detergent or STP gas treatment. And right there next to his dog-eared copy of “On The Road,” is likely a journal in which he scribbles drawings of tattoo ideas and records his innermost thoughts about how bad the establishment and people like me suck.
I’m hip. I get it. It’s a dog-eat-dog world on the mean streets of Chattanooga. You never know when the shit’s gonna go down and you’ll have to jump on your vintage Schwinn 10-speed and bail. In the meantime it’s extremely important to keep everything critical to your daily existence on your person at all times—including headphones.
Yeah, I’m talking headphones. Not earbuds, mind you—those the tiny, unobtrusive personal speakers which deliver neat perfect high-fidelity discreetly into your ear canal. No, I’m talking about the massive, coffee cup-size concert hall speakers strapped to each side of one’s head headphones.
Back in the day, the only way you could deliver the sounds coming out of your stereo into your ears and not everyone else’s was to utilize a gigantic headphone device the likes of which could also be found in the cockpit of a 747. Over the years, advances in technology have shaved the size and weight of headphones down to size without being lost in your noggin.
Then came house music. DJs mixing tunes between two turntables required the old-school. much more audio-accurate “professional” headphones because they’re only going to nestle on one side between their head and shoulders. As a result of the influence these urban tastemakers have on pop culture, pedestrians looking to mask street and subway sounds in large cities found these headphones more noise reducing than buds.
As with all trends, several years later this one trickled down to the much quieter streets of Chattanooga. Suddenly we needed these bigger and better personal audio devices in order to effectively hear the subtle lo-fi nuances in the music of say, The Black Keys or The White Stripes. Unfortunately, people who sport over-the-ear headphones in public look as stupid as I felt wearing them as a kid.
A colleague of mine at another local paper recently published a column about his affection and addiction to headphones. He wrote that his arsenal of various makes and models were very dear to him and that he can rarely be seen out in public without a set over his ears. I bet he’s got a backpack, too.
Chuck Crowder is a local writer and man about town. His opinions are his own, unless they also reflect those of The Pulse, which in this case, they do.