Late one evening a few years ago, my brother and I were walking home from the pub when I heard an odd sound. It was a very high-pitched hum that made me wonder if I’d had a sudden attack of tinnitus. But this was way too loud to be tinnitus, and it was making me feel sick.
“What the hell is that?” I said, wincing.
“What?” said my brother.
“Can’t you hear that?” I said, “that unholy noise?”
Then it stopped. Determined to find the source, I retraced my steps. Sceptically, my brother followed.
“There!” I said, “There it is again. You seriously can’t hear that?”
Glowing in the yellow light of the McDonald’s I’d stopped in front of, my brother shrugged. Then stopped short.
“Ahh!,” he said, “I bet it’s a Mosquito.”
“Oh sure,” I said, “One of those humongoid, invisible death mosquitos everyone’s always on about.”
“No, no. A Mosquito. It’s this device they use to stop youths from gathering outside shops and things. Only people under 25 can hear it, or something.”
At the time, I was about 22 and my brother was 30. In an ear-bleedingly urgent frequency, the Mosquito (which is a real thing and genuinely not something imagined by George Orwell) was telling me to vacate the hell out of these illustrious, piss and fat-smelling premises. Meanwhile, my brother could “loiter” all he liked, unencumbered by aural torture.
Around six years later, there’s something I can’t hear. I’m listening to the much-hyped new Lorde song, Green Light. The thing I can’t hear is… why it’s good. I’m listening out of a half-arsed obligation to stay on top of whatever happens to be trending. I have nothing against Lorde. If anything, she seems pretty cool. She was born about five minutes ago. I’ve heard smart people say she’s smart. She has what’s known, musically, as a “good voice”. But I’m just not sure what I’m listening to. It’s… fine, I guess? At this point, about two minutes into the Green Light video, I have an epiphany: I’m old.
OK, not old, old. Yes, there’s little duller than millennials starting to admit they don’t have fun in clubs anymore. But there is this profound point at which you realise, say, when you’re looking for a snazzy jumper in Urban Outfitters, that you’re too fucking old for Urban Outfitters.
I remember, when I was very, very un-old, watching Top of the Pops at my grandma’s. According to my grandma, who would sit there on her beige sofa looking exasperated at being made to miss Coronation Street, everything, from Radiohead to Steps, was a “dirge”.
I didn’t know what she meant by “dirge”, but it sounded bad. Like the sound of a barn door falling off and hitting a tired cow. Dirge. I got so sick of her calling my favourite songs “dirges” that sometimes I let her watch Corrie just to avoid the aggro.
As I lie in bed, laptop on my belly, eyes glazing over to this Lorde video, I realise I haven’t turned even into my mum, I’ve turned into my grandmother. So dulled are my receptors to whatever genius there is in current pop music, my ears have skipped a generation. Like my brother and the Mosquito, I just can’t hear it. And – oddly – I’m absolutely fine with that.
When I was a teenager, if I may rewind a third time, I walked in on my mum getting dressed in her room. We’re a pretty naked family, so seeing my mum in the resplendent nude wasn’t especially traumatic. But still, I noticed the blinds were rolled up tight. Sunlight was streaming into the room along with – I imagined – the unified gaze of the entire outside world.
“MUM,” I said, “EVERYONE can see you.”
Without a beat, she was standing right in front of the window, waving her arms and yelling, “OOH, OOH, BIG FAT NAKED WOMAN EVERYONE. LOOK.”
And there she stood. A free woman. I wondered how long it would be before I stopped caring.
My confused indifference to Lorde has triggered something in me. And I think my version of “BIG FAT NAKED WOMAN” will be going on Spotify without clicking “private session”. Once the entire world – not that it gives an idle, midnight fart – knows just how much time I spend listening to Erasure and Ace of Base, I too will be free. Deaf to the mosquito of disapproval.