Savage Breasts

Do the homeless hate classical music?

This is the time of year when Buzz spends countless hours at Dallas' central library, doing research for our upcoming annual year-end story. (By "research" we mean "cadging from The Dallas Morning News microfilms." Please don't tell them.) It has become something of a holiday tradition for us, hanging out with the homeless guys outside the library, smoking cigarettes, looking destitute. You can overhear some great conversations listening to the homeless, such as the guy a couple of years ago who went on at length about his health problems, which he said included an affliction by nematodes.

But it's been a little lonely this year. There seem to be far fewer coughing wretches sitting around the library--excluding us, obviously. Lucky for us, our solitude has been eased by the addition of classical music piped through speakers mounted outside the library.

Wa-a-a-it a minute. Music. Fewer homeless. We sensed a connection and called Dale McNeill, public service administrator for the Dallas library, to see if it was using classical music as a weapon to drive away the homeless.

Not exactly, McNeill says. The library began playing the music outside about a month ago to make the building more inviting to patrons. If it has the added benefit of keeping down the number of homeless loiterers, well, great, but that wasn't necessarily the intent, he says.

"As someone who goes to the symphony a lot, I don't want to think that classical music drives people away," McNeill says.

Right. For that we would suggest the works of Celine Dion, though that might violate several United Nations conventions on human rights.

In any case, the use of classical music to discourage us layabouts has a precedent locally. In 1997, the McDonald's restaurant at Commerce and Griffin streets started playing light classical Muzak outside to drive away gang members who were hurting the business (see "McFugue, No Cheese," by Thomas Korosec, April 24, 1997).

Whether it's the music or recent initiatives by the city to cut down on homeless loitering, something seems to be working at the library. McNeill says he's heard positive comments from patrons about the library's environment lately. For the record, Buzz never thought the downtown library was particularly unwelcoming. We think it's good to have homeless people around; giving them cigarettes and the occasional dollar can relieve a lot of affluent liberal guilt.

Nevertheless, the library's music plan has an added side benefit. The tunes we heard came from WRR, the city-owned radio station. If a dozen or so homeless listen, we figure that has to double the station's audience.

 
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