Keep It Under Your Hat … or Not

I’ll never understand why people wearing headphones sing out loud.

Sure, there are the crazy — or extremely motivated — folks who burst into song in public places without the aid of electronics. They are making their own kind of music, singing their own special song. Even when nobody else sings along…

But these people, the ones who are ostensibly wearing headphones for a portable, personal and, most of all, private musical experience … what are they up to? Why the pretense of headphones? Just carry a boom box like those other crazy people. Just turn off the music and sing by yourself. (Maybe you’ll get some loose change out of it from exasperated commuters.)

There was a woman on the subway (where else?) who exemplified all that is wrong with this behavior.

1.) Her Discman was jacked up so loud, I could hear the beats from the other end of the car.

2.) She shattered the peaceful din of the gently rocking train with her sudden alarming outburst, doing her damnedest to immitate the R&B in her ears. Her voice came out of nowhere. I thought it was an argument at first, but then I noticed it was someone singing, or something very much like it. I was not the only one looking at her.

3.) She clearly did not know all the words. She only got about every few lines and skipped a few words or a whole line at a time. Strange, I thought, because, despite her butchering, I recognized the song and knew it to be a rather old one. And even these brief snatches of song were sung badly, out of tune, American Idol-style.

Some people are content to adamantly bob their heads around, or do a little dance or series of hand gestures, or close their eyes, silently mouth the words and perform some expressive theater of the face. These people are annoying, but one can ignore them. This woman, on the other hand, was apparently so moved by Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” that she simply couldn’t help but spread the Word to us as well. Was this a Pentacostal moment for her? Is she a prism of pop music, splitting concentrated beams of R&B into auditory rainbows before us?

These people… Are they temporarily losing it or is it a deeper problem?

Are they having a bad day? Maybe they’re pissed off and they just want some attention or to make some noise — “I’m gonna sing, dammit!” Less destructive than throwing dishes across the kitchen, I suppose, or overturning a table full of framed photographs, but only just — and not much less cacophonous.

Maybe American Idol is part of Miss No More Drama’s problem. Everyone thinks she can be a star. Even on the F train. Whether she knows the words or not. Maybe she thinks she is talented and she is treating us to her Gift.

Maybe she thought she was gently humming but couldn’t tell she was so loud because her music was turned up so loud.

I saw a headphones-wearing woman at my gym last week who, while I was lifting weights above my head not five feet away from her, treated everyone within earshot to a series of concentration-breaking intervals of “melody.” She, too, did not know all the words and sang only the few she knew. Badly. In fact, I think she was actually just speaking the words. It was hard to tell.

When I glared at her, she looked normal to me. You never know when these people will reveal themselves. They look just like you and me. It’s like when Wednesday Addams dressed up as herself for Halloween. “Why aren’t you wearing a costume?” someone asked.

“I am,” she replied. “I’m dressed as a serial killer. They look just like everyone else.”


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the untallied hours

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