Is Arlington at war with music?

Galaxy Hut
The Galaxy Hut put rules on its jukebox when a patron kept playing one Nirvana song.

Battles over noise happen everywhere in the region. But Arlington County’s tend to be noisier than most. Consider some recent times that county residents squared off against sound:

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• Last fall, a beer garden that presented gentle folk-rock to parents and children stopped hosting music after neighbors complained.

• A South Arlington civic leader threatened to oppose a liquor license for a bar that accidentally played a Tupac song when she was there.

• In November, Arlington residents complained that they could hear bugle calls from Fort Meyer.

To be fair, Arlingtonians are bombarded with an awful lot of sound. Music is everywhere in Arlington — the home of Dischord records as well as, once upon a time, the headquarters of the Parents Music Resource Center, the Tipper Gore-founded committee responsible for the Parental Advisory stickers on CDs that persist today. Aside from the county's many outdoor festivals and music-presenting venues, music wafts from the outdoor ice-skating rink at Pentagon Row in Crystal City and surrounds shoppers at the Market Common, the Clarendon town-square style shopping center, which has an outdoor sound system. Market Common told me its music is handled by a contractor; Pentagon Row said the same. (Elizabeth Almand, a real estate services coordinator for Market Common, says the volume is always kept “pretty low.”)

None of these factors explain why residents’ complaints about the noise so often verge on the hysterical.

Take the case of Lieber v. Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse. What started out as a regular early-January night at the Columbia Pike movie theater’s Old Arlington Grill quickly turned into a Tupacalypse.

As ARLNow reported on Jan. 17, Carole Lieber of the Arlington Heights Civic Association (whose last name was redacted in the ARL piece) stopped in at the Drafthouse on Jan. 7 on her way to hear music at P. Brennan’s, across the street. Tragicomedy ensued.

Lieber wrote on an area Listserv the evening of the incident that the trouble started when a bartender turned off the Bruce Springsteen and turned on some Tupac Shakur. “MFing this, MFing that, fU this and that,” Lieber wrote. “I was shocked. This in my neighborhood? is this the new Pike so many worked on to build? My friend and I had just ordered another drink. I knew for sure I was not interested in listening to cussing rap. I politely asked the bartender to please change the music as I found it offensive. His response? Don’t worry, the song is almost over. Next song – more of the same.”

Lieber asked for a refund for the drinks she and a companion had purchased, as she didn’t want to sit and consume them while listening to the music. After some back and forth with the staff, Lieber said she eventually left — without leaving a tip— and later said on the Listserv that she had “[n]o intention of ever going back to the Grill. Ever. EVER. Please advise when license is up for renewal. I will object. STRONGLY.” She then ticked off some of her civic service credentials and added that she had a “right to not be offended when I visit a local establishment I have otherwise supported for the 23 years I have lived here. And in those 23 years I have never ever ever heard a single resident of this community use even one of the words in that music. What is next, porn tapes on the TV at the Grill?”

Greg Godbout, owner of Cinema N Drafthouse, responded on the same Listserv that the music played at the Grill is typically from one of Comcast cable’s music channels or an already approved iTunes collection, and that the appearance of a Tupac song in the rotation was an accident. Godbout said that although he regretted the incident (and the bartender was suspended for a week for his oversight), he was concerned about Lieber’s “very aggressive and personally threatening desire” to use her “political connections and civic association connections to put the Arlington Drafthouse out of business.” He added that the entire incident was on video, thanks to a security system, and that the tape supported his staff’s version of events.

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