For the first time in years, I brought a portable music player to a public space to spread some good vibes. It lasted about an hour on Saturday evening, in a public park, which did not have the usual amount of people due to the weather (cloudy and very humid). I had it playing while walking a lap around the place, and then settling down on a hillside with a picnic blanket.
The music was whatever I found interesting on the FM radio stations, played over a walkman that I found for less than a dollar. It's an old Sanyo made-in-Japan model, well constructed out of metal, with a telescoping antenna. Looks cool, too -- painted red, black trim, with silver buttons and dials. The built-in speaker is powerful enough that you can set it down on the ground and hear it just fine on 3 or 4 out of 10.
No complaints or funny looks, and a few showing interest. One girl was pleasantly surprised to hear Taylor Swift playing in an open space -- like, how was that possible? What invention from the future did this guy get his hands on? Everyone's so used to earbuds, and only used to hearing music outside the home if it's coming from a car, or a retail store's speaker system. Especially the Millennials and Zoomers -- they don't remember the boombox days. Good ol' reliable Gen X to the rescue, keeping the good traditions alive.
At the end of the hour, as "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips came on, two teenage girls veered off the asphalt walkway to stride in front of me, both smiling and giggling for attention. Maybe it was just the relief of getting to be near a random hot guy in the wild during quarantine, but I think the vintage music played on a vintage device added to the charm of the situation.
The fact that this is another one of those "first time in years" happenings, suggests a link to the 15-year excitement cycle. I don't remember doing this at all from 2015-'19, during the vulnerable phase where everyone's in a refractory state and just wants to be left alone, lest even the slightest stimulation overload their nervous system. I do remember one guy in 2014 carrying a boombox around a thrift store, playing "The Promise" by When In Rome among other less memorable songs.
During the manic phase of the early 2010s, I used to carry around a makeshift boombox -- a discman, attached to a portable speaker, and an assortment of CDs, all held in the large external pockets of a canvas briefcase, which I was already holding anyway to lug around books. I recall once seeing another guy walking around the streets with a proper boombox during that same period.
As long as you choose the right catchy songs, it will lift people's mood -- I remember the Cars compilation always playing well with park-going audiences. Just avoid stuff that won't be crowd favorites -- rap, country, metal, etc.
Fortunately for my recollection, I blogged at the time about the most vivid and hilarious experience I had with playing music in public. It was at a Starbucks, me vs. what we now call a Karen or an AWFL, before there was a label for them. And yes, she did ask to speak to the manager to intervene against me. (Since it was the manic phase, who do you think won?) Seriously, you have to read it, I'm LOLing seven years later.
That was the same summer, 2013, that I got to troll and shame a group of device-junkies who were ruining the otherwise screen-free atmosphere of Vegas in summertime. That really was the high point of public IRL trolling for me. I didn't even blog about all of them -- someday when I can get in the right mood, I'll tell another story from that summer, also involving a Boomer Karen.
Thinking back further, I don't remember playing music in public during the last restless phase of the late 2000s, and I don't recall seeing anyone else doing so either. Who knows how widespread portable speakers were? -- maybe we would've felt like it, but just didn't have the technology. So it's unclear whether this trend will return during the current restless phase, but it will definitely come back by the next manic phase in the late 2020s.
In the meantime, I'll do my part to get it started again, and you should too. No more boring low-energy public spaces. And remember, as of this year nobody is bringing their phones to serve as social insulators in public, totally unlike any period since the adoption of cell phones and smartphones. You won't be competing for their attention. Only the spergiest freaks are still in full "stare down at screen" mode in public.
Just remember -- you're not playing music to "tell the world something about your persona," since nobody cares. You're playing music to please the crowd. It could be something they haven't heard before, as long as it isn't off-putting or a narrow in-group signal. I was regularly playing Style Council over the car speakers a month or so ago, and always got smiles from pedestrians for "Long Hot Summer", which most of them probably hadn't heard before (even if music buffs have).
Great music has timeless appeal. The only obstacle is the audience's mood, and we're out of the vulnerable phase of the excitement cycle, so don't worry about them being in the same hysterical emo "leave me alone" mood of the past five years. They're not going to #MeToo you for making unwanted musical advances in a public space.