The first badge of honor attainable by a suburban garage band comes in the form of local law enforcement visiting on account of a noise complaint. This proverbial slap on the spiked wristband not only brings to mind the adage that “if it’s too loud, you’re too old.” It also suggests that at least one person outside of the band has heard your music. Two, if you count the cop. Granted, this may not be the quickest way to build an audience, or make friendly with the neighbors, but it is a good way to see your tax dollars at work if the asphalt autopsies being performed on West Spain and East Napa aren’t sufficient.
I should say here that I’m not in a garage band, but am rather one of those twee troubadours to whom an acoustic guitar is the contingency of choice when the battery on the Ipod has gone and we’ve only just served the cheese and port plate. I’ve seen firsthand the kind of psychic devastation wrought by an ill-timed acoustic sing-a-long and would never inflict one upon my friends unless they’ve signed a liability waiver (“kumbaya,” I’ve learned, is Angolan for “we are the cursed, please put us out of our misery”). That said, while dining al fresco in our grotto last Saturday, I found myself warbling some Cole Porter knock-offs for an audience of six wits cherry-picked from my Rolodex (I’m amazed that such an erudite crowd failed to notice that their surnames all ended in either “S” or “H”— except for Mr. L. who arrived later in the evening). The guest list was culled from newsrooms (of both the local and metro variety), our local film festival, slick magazines and the Ivory Tower (our requisite professor wore a bowtie and smoked a corncob pipe while leading a lusty conversation on “American Nietzche” H.L. Mencken’s drinking habits). Later, a spirited discussion ensued over what social protocol to employ after discovering one’s cousin is dating Adolf Eichmann’s granddaughter (Godspeed, Spitzy). Anyway, I mention the guest list only to illustrate the fact that we were not, by definition, a rowdy bunch but rather a chatty set more disposed to the occasional “pshaw” than a power-chord — even after the umpteenth bottle of proseco.
At 11:15 p.m., my wife the Contessa adjourned us to the living room. Within half an hour, we resumed our ersatz tour of the’60s songbook, soon landing on Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” At the verse “Look out, kid, it’s something you did, God knows when but you’re doing it again,” the Contessa heard a gentle rapping at the door and opened it only to greet one of Sonoma’s finest.
Verbatim: “Sounds good, but there’s been a noise complaint,” he said, likely a little embarrassed as our eyes widened in utter shock. Later, at my behest, the officer was kind enough to call me so that we could discuss the origins of the complaint, whereupon I availed him of a dozen or so conspiracy theories that included everything from local political intrigues, dynastic dramas and low-rent stalking to plain old sour grapes, which, at harvest time, are particularly bitter. All the officer could do was reiterate that the call had been anonymous. Not for long, I thought, secretly planning a caroling crusade in which my compatriots and I would sing, door-to-door, until we found the fiend (who would look, I imagined in that moment, like a villainous Blue Meanie from the “Yellow Submarine”).
The Contessa, however, thought better of my plan and reminded that the way to engender good neighborliness is to be a good neighbor. And good neighbors call each other (not the police).