Hoffman's Houston
making a racket

Ken Hoffman sounds off on noise pollution and the most rage-inducing songs

Ken Hoffman sounds off on noise pollution and rage-inducing songs

loud noise man with fingers in ears
Noise — such as bad songs played loudly — can be detrimental to your health. Photo by Getty Images

A ruckus over noise happened in my neighborhood several years ago. The good citizens of West University Place and Bellaire banded together to prohibit train engineers from leaning on their horn as they pass through the two communities.

After jumping through legal hoops and installing special safety equipment, a “Quiet Zone” was established and trains now roll silently through West U and Bellaire.

I live a pitching wedge from the tracks. Those insanely loud and completely unnecessary train horns, in the immortal words of Jerry Lee Lewis, shook neighbors’ nerves and rattled our brains. I thought my windows would shatter from the tremors caused by the horns.

Maybe when Houston was mostly farm land, train horns served a purpose. But there are very few cows or drunks sleeping on the tracks these days, and horns won’t stop idiots from playing chicken with trains.

Cities can enact noise ordinances to stop your neighbor from using his gas-powered leaf blower before sunrise Sunday. Texas has only one law that addresses noise. A person can be cited for creating unreasonable noise louder than 85 decibels — but only after being first warned by the police. Eighty-five decibels is roughly the loudness of a kitchen garbage disposal (without a fork stuck down there), a tractor, or police siren.

According to the National Institute of Deafness, sustained exposure to 85 decibels can cause hearing loss in humans.

So if your neighbor has his stereo cranked up too high, or a train is shaking you out of bed at 2 am it’s time to raise a racket about it. 

Bringing the noise
While France and Canada are employing tear gas, snipers, and the threat of arrest to disperse vaccine mandate protesters, New Zealand is taking a different approach to repel — more like repulse — the anti-vax crowd outside its parliament building in Wellington.

New Zealand authorities are blasting Barry Manilow’s greatest hits at the protesters. The 15-minute loop includes Manilow gold records like Weekend in New England, It’s a Miracle, and Copacabana. The playlist also includes the dance hit "Macarena" and pro-vax public service announcements.

The crowd is responding by spinning Twisted Sister’s anthem "We’re Not Gonna Take It." Sounds like an old-fashioned Battle of the Bands in a high school gym.

And the beat goes on.

The anti-vaxxers are protesting New Zealand’s strict COVID restrictions, which include mandatory vaccination of medical and education workers, mask mandates, border shutdowns, and limited lockdowns. New Zealand has had only 53 COVID-related deaths among its 5 million population. About 77 percent of Kiwis are fully vaccinated.

Sound strategy
Using music as a weapon is not a new tactic. The Bible tells the story of Joshua’s Israelite army breaking down the walls of Jericho with the sound of their trumpets.

In 1989, Panama dictator Manuel Noriega temporarily eluded U.S. Army personnel seeking to arrest him on drug charges by taking refuge in The Vatican embassy in Panama City.

U.S. Gen. Maxwell "Mad Max" Thurman ordered loudspeakers placed around the embassy and cranked them up to 11. Starting on Christmas, the U.S. blared rockers like "Panama" by Van Halen, "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins, "Refugee" by Tom Petty, "Give It Up" by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, "No More Mister Nice Guy" by Alice Cooper, "Paranoid" by Black Sabbat,h and the greatest prank song of all time, "Never Gonna Give You U"p by Rick Astley.

Hey, I like most of those songs!

Two weeks later, after a final playing of "I Fought the Law" by the Bobby Fuller Four, Noriega left The Vatican embassy and surrendered. Noriega was an opera buff, which explains why he found the army’s playlist so maddening.

He wouldn’t have been an Eagle 107.5 classic rock listener. Noriega was flown to Miami where he spent two decades in prison.

Loud music or noise of any kind, can create psychological and physical pain in humans. It can drive otherwise rational people into irrational behavior.

Occasionally TV news has a story of feudin’ neighbors blasting music over their backyard fence to drive the other into calling Mayflower Moving Vans.
While poking fun at Barry Manilow is a sitting fastball, it’s really unfair. He’s not one of my favorites, but he’s sold 85 million records worldwide, and "Mandy" sounds better than going to jail.

Your most-hated tunes
There’s only one singer whose records would have me running into the long arms of the law: Yoko Ono.

Music is in the ear of the beholder. As John Lennon once told a crowd at a 1965 Beatles concert, “the next song we’d like to sing is our latest record … or electronic noise depending on whose side you’re on.”

So: Who’s No. 1 on your least-wanted list?

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Share your most-hated tracks with Ken Hoffman at ken@culturemap.com.