Summer time here in Greece is beach time. During the hottest, most popular weeks in July and August the cities half-empty and everyone heads for the coast.
My wife and youngest son and I go on the weekends, since she works and doesn’t have an official summer holiday. We usually drive about an hour to an hour and a half to a quiet uncrowded stretch of beach where there’s plenty of soft sand and the water is slightly cool and crystal clear, and we spend several hours there on Saturdays and Sundays swimming and sunbathing.
One hot day after our swim we decided to have a coffee with some of her colleagues at a popular beach bar, though we usually avoid such places because of the noise and the crowds. The parking area was packed, a vast dusty wasteland of gleaming metal
baking in the heat. After we found a spot the attendant urged us to move a bit to create more space; people were still arriving.
The first thing that hits you upon entering the bar area is the overwhelming noise. They had huge speakers set up blasting out ear-shattering music, whatever hits were currently
being played on pop music stations. The next thing you notice is the crowd: umbrellas
and lounge chairs and small round white plastic tables interspersed among a vast sea of flesh. The patrons were mostly young people. There were a few kids, and a smattering of old or middle-aged folks, like my wife’s co-workers. People everywhere sat about sipping the expensive drinks and – this was the strangest thing – many of them didn’t seem to be happy at all. One would have thought they had gone there to have fun, and ostensibly that was the motivation, but they had also gone there to display themselves as wares for the
taking to the right individual. Some were joyous, of course, drinking and laughing and enjoying the sun and sea, but these were people who already had partners or good friends and who were not looking for pickups. Those who had come with the hope of finding something more than they had come with, someone special perhaps, were tense and expectant, casting glances here and there, unable to cut loose and have fun because they hoped for that which they didn’t have – and there were a lot of such people.
The beach itself was beautiful: soft sand and clean warm water; but covered over as it was by this raucous mass of humanity it lost much of its appeal too. There was a certain sadness in contemplating what it must have been like before this chaos descended upon it.
Be that as it may, we had a good time chatting and swimming, though under other circumstances we would never have chosen to spend our time at the beach in such a place.
That night, though, I couldn’t sleep. One of the giant speakers had been very close to the place my wife’s colleagues had set up, and the music had profoundly upset my equilibrium. I like music, but I have my preferences, as I’m sure you do, and I can’t stand it too loud. But something else bothered me about this music – something that at first I couldn’t put my finger on. Not all of it, but some of the most popular songs that I had heard over and over not only there at the beach bar but other places over the radio. Then it hit me: these songs were pornography. They spoke of admiring bodies and then
wanting to have sex, of arousing a woman so she gets wet, of getting excited by the whips and chains of sadomasochism. I’m no prude; there’s plenty of mention of sex in my memoirs and stories. But these songs completely divorced the sex act from emotion and spirit, and that isn’t natural. Most of us enjoy sex, even long for it if we don’t get enough of it; but sex isn’t merely a physical act but a form of communication, spirit to spirit. That’s
why porn films are ultimately unsatisfactory: they reduce the act to its basest elements, gutting it of motivation and emotion, as if the only point of it all were to “get off”. These songs are the same. They leave a sour taste in the psyche, an emptiness, and a twisting feeling that something is wrong – the kind of feeling you get when you know that someone is lying to you but you can’t prove it.
It made me recall the music of bygone years, the music I grew up with. Yeah, okay, you can call me an old fart if you want, but the fact is that there was real heart to a lot of that music. Not all of it to be sure: some of it glorified drugs and the sex act back then too. But many songs spoke of things that mattered: real love, the need for social change, and so on. I don’t hear any popular songs these days that even try to say something significant. Have musicians dumbed down emotionally to the point that they are unable to uplift or enlighten but merely appeal to the basest instincts?
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I like sex too, as almost all of us do – but not as a purely mechanical act completely devoid of that spirit which illuminates us and makes us shine forth as unique individuals. These songs take away that wonderful uniqueness and render us as base flesh; they imply that if our flesh is not attractive (and most, at least at first glance, is not) then we are not worthy. But we are all worthy of respect and of love, both those who are pleasing to the eye and those who are not. Would that there were some songs that gave us that message.