My spouse enjoys listening to classical music in the car, my kids have an endless array of American Idol CDs, and I prefer news and talk radio. Between the four of us, we're continually quarrelling about who gets to control the audio experience in the car. There's never any consensus and it drives me crazy. How do we find common ground?
- Family Feud
Before the steering wheel began doubling as a vehicle's audio control centre, you could intercept the hand of your nearest musical opponent en route to changing the dial. Now the driver, armed with a set of alternate controls, has an unfair advantage when it comes to music on the road. Unfair, that is, if you think listening to music in the car should be a democratic experience.
Some drivers run their vehicles like ships. As automobile captains, they willfully expose passengers to all kinds of psychological trauma, such as pop-country music or a documentary series examining the secret lives of fire-bellied toads. Common courtesy is the key. If no one else appreciates John Denver's Rocky Mountain High or Neil Diamond's Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show the way the driver does, it's best to save those soundtracks for solo trips.
Listening to music in the car provides great pleasure for many motorists. The all-encompassing sound system in a new BMW might be as close as most can get to a live concert experience. My preference for cranking up the stereo, on even the shortest drives, may be a kind of quiet rebellion. While growing up, my mother preferred no music in the car. Like the sports and race-car purists without radios in their vehicles, she believes the act of driving should receive maximum concentration and focus.
Which brings me to the therapeutic benefits of music on the road. When stuck in traffic, for some, listening to one song by Sting has the same soothing effect as an hour of yoga practice. Your partner's classical fixation may be an attempt to quell what goes on outside the vehicle - traffic jams, road ragers, and adverse weather among them.
Remind your family about the old days, long before the existence of computers. Cars simply came with a blank centre console. When car radios were introduced in the 1930s, they were a luxury option. However, they drew a lot of electric power, and had to 'warm up' before they could be operated. Apart from the introduction of the transistor and FM bandwidth, the quest for music on the road remained largely unchanged until the eight-track player arrived in the late 1960s. Revolutionary, it seemed, until cassette tapes and CDs came along.
All this leads to an obvious, modern-day solution. Give the kids an iPod Shuffle for their birthdays. MP3 players are more affordable than ever and much cheaper than purchasing separate vehicles. Having said that, between the iPad, the Kindle, text-messaging and in-car DVDs (not to mention the up-and-coming in-car microwaves), technology has almost eviscerated what was once a perfect time for family bonding. While you're together on the road, why not get the family interacting? Try group singing. How about Sweet Caroline ? Or anything by Raffi.
Why not invest in a satellite radio? With hundreds of choices, there's something for everyone. Options you may have previously overlooked include comedy, weather, and political channels. Or delve into yet unexplored areas of the musical spectrum, and discover something new to the whole family. Maybe opera, or hip hop. Alternatively, try making CDs of music you all enjoy. You're wondering how it's possible to reach a compromise, with your partner's preference for Mozart and your kids' enchantment with Adam "Glambert" Lambert and other Idols. Find some neutral-ground. Really, who doesn't enjoy The Beatles or the dulcet tones of Metallica?
Look on the bright side. At least we're not living back in the '50s, when the only choice for personalizing your musical ride was the "Highway Hi-Fi" record player. Developed by Chrysler and Columbia Records, this factory option was mounted under the dash. Every bump, swerve, and sudden stop provided yet another opportunity to scratch, mix beats, or hear the same line twice.