The Advent of Lousy Music
There's no escape
Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read could be true. The names and locations have not been changed to protect the innocent.
There are no innocents.
You’re a detective sergeant. You’re assigned to Domestic Division. You get a call of a major disturbance with possible violence at a high rise on the Upper East Side. There’s no telling what you might find when you get there. Your job … maintain order.
The First Call
It was Wednesday, November 24th, the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday, they call it. I was working the Night Watch out of Domestic Division. My partner was out sick with turkey poisoning. My name’s Briggs. I’d just come out of the last remaining Te-Amo where I had bought a small cigar. It was 7:18 P.M. when I got my first call.
I arrived at 642 East 60th at 8:22 P.M. I was shown to the thirteen floor by a nervous doorman. He didn’t need to tell me which apartment. You could hear the loud banging as soon as the elevator door opened.
The door wasn’t locked. I went in.
“Sir, may I ask what you’re doing with that hammer?”
“Killing this radio. What does it look like?” He demonstrated by hitting the radio again.
“For what reason, sir?”
“Because it was playing Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time! by Paul McCartney.”
We had been warned this might happen. A departmental criminologist earlier briefed patrols that the composer of this tune belonged to the Bruce Springsteen school of song writing. Pick a lyric, repeat it endlessly ad nauseam over and over and over and over again forever and ever and keep on signing it so that the listener is forced into a violent reaction.
Before I could ask another question, from the remnant of the radio came a squeaky but recognizable Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time! The man clobbered what was left with a chair.
All became silent. The man visibly relaxed.
“I’m going to let you go with a warning, sir. Try not to listen to the radio or television before December 24th. It’s Christmas then, sir. It’s Advent now. Now is a time for sober reflection in anticipation of a tremendous and unique spiritual event. The birth of our Lord. The time for bad music will come, sir.”
The Second Call
I took the elevator down. Before I could exit through the revolving door the second call came in. A possible jumper just four blocks north. It was 8:37 P.M.
I arrived on scene at 9:08 P.M. A crowd of about fifteen people had gathered. They were staring up at a woman perched on the rail of a fifth-floor fire escape. As I walked up the stairs I wondered if this was truly the season to be jolly.
The super opened the door with his pass key. I entered the room with caution. The window leading to the fire escape was open. I went to it. The woman saw me.
“Don’t come any closer! I’ll jump!”
“Don’t do that, ma’am.”
She shifted her weight further over the street. “You don’t understand!”
“I’m listening, ma’am.”
“I work at Macy’s. They have a Christmas tape that loops. It plays, like, fifteen songs? I can handle it. I can. Except that when All I Want for Christmas Is You I, like, lose it. It’s like … it’s just … it’s so inane. How can anybody, like, listen to it?!”
“They can’t, ma’am. Nobody can. It’s one in a long line of songs that nobody enjoys but which are nevertheless found everywhere this time of year.”
“Why? Please tell me why!”
“People have forgotten Advent, ma’am. And the true meaning of Christmas that we’re all searching for has already been found. It’s my theory, ma’am, that the music that was supposed to help people remember is being used instead to make people forget.”
The woman cried. She climbed down and came through the window back into the apartment. I left her with her tears.
The Third Call
I could almost hear the beeper before it went off. A band of rogue carolers were sighted singing The Carpenters’ (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays on 57th. When the lyric reached “From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the traffic is terrific” a shopkeeper came at them with an ax.
The incident itself was not unusual. The number of incidents was. Something was happening.
I had a hunch. I went to a newsstand and bought a copy of the Post. There it was. WPIX had scheduled a twenty-four hour back-to-back Black Friday marathon of Love Actually.
At least I would be racking up the overtime.