Published on March 19th, 2017 | by Brent Chittenden2
52 Albums That Changed My Life (and Other Exaggerations), Chapter 12: Zero Tolerance For Silence
Back in chapter 3 (Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms), I introduced you to my Uncle Bill, one of my sherpas on the mountain of musical knowledge. As you may recall, I mentioned how Uncle Bill helped introduce me to other bands, especially when I was curious but what I may not have mentioned was the fact that he also introduced me to other genres. For example, while this list hasn’t really shown it, I became a fan of modern jazz due to Uncle Bill’s suggestions and loaning me CDs.
This chapter is how my Uncle Bill pulled a fast one on me and used my fledgling love of jazz to give me possibly the worst album I have ever owned.
During my summers at the cottage, especially in my teens, I would spend a fair amount of time going through my uncle’s cd collection. Uncle Bill had a subscription to a jazz magazine, Jazziz and out of boredom, I started reading it. Seeing that I had a tad bit of interest, he started putting on the albums that went along with the articles. I learned about Fourplay, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour and Pat Metheny.
Jazz was something different than what I regularly listened to. None of my friends were listening to it and the musicians were top notch. While my scope wasn’t large, I really grew to enjoy the players.
Fast forward a year to the spring of 1994. It’s a cloudy day at the cottage. It felt like it was going to rain but it hadn’t mustered up the moisture to do so. I spied my Uncle Bill tromping down the path. As he got closer, I noticed a CD in his hand.
“Here. You like weird music, listen to this.”
With that, Uncle Bill handed me a copy of Pat Metheny’s Zero Tolerance For Silence. At the time, it’s was 19th and latest album. It hadn’t been out long, I was surprised he was handing it over so quickly.
“When do you want it back.”
With that, Uncle Bill laughed. “It’s yours, keep it.”
Right there, I should have known something was up.
As luck would have it, I wouldn’t get a chance to listen to the album until I got home. It was Sunday night, I had no homework and the Ongoing History of New Music was over. I hit the switch on my little boom box stereo from radio to CD. I drop in the disc and closed the lid, expecting the sounds of amazing guitar playing.
From my speakers came this terrible noise. It sounded like someone took a marshal stack and a guitar and tossed them down a flight of stairs. I skipped to the next track on the CD hoping that it would be something better.
Nope. Maybe the next one.
This went on until I found a track that started with cords that sounded kind of like a Chuck Berry thing but quickly descended into a bunch of drunk monkeys play with a guitar at a very loud volume.
What the hell had I been given?
The next weekend, Uncle Bill came over.
“What the hell was that CD you gave me?”
“That’s Pat Metheny’s new album. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
As it had turned out, I was the third person to own Zero Tolerance for Silence as my uncle had also been given the CD as a “gift” from a friend of his that was equally dismayed at the album but just had to share the misery or joke with someone else.
Oddly, I never had the heart to pass the CD along. I once heard Alan Cross describe Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica as an album that you would put on at the end of the night to kill a party and send everyone home. I’m positive Zero Tolerance for Silence can do the same job but in a much quicker fashion.
The closest I ever got to hearing a compliment about the album is when two of my friends and I used it for background music during a scene in a surrealist play we did for drama class (it was an artsy Eugene Ionesco inspired piece) and one guy came over and asked me if I made the music and if I didn’t who did.
Without a doubt, it’s the worst sounding album I own.
Now, ideally, I would love to point you in the direction of somewhere you can listen to it, if for no other reason so I can prove to you that it’s exactly as bad as I make it sound.
Unfortunately, I can’t.
For years, my assumption and the assumption of my uncle and many others was that Zero Tolerance for Silence was a solid middle finger in the direction of record company Geffen Records. I mean, the clues seemed to fit. It’s just loud noise from a jazz guitarist who is technically brilliant. Geffen did allow the album to go out of print and it happens to be Metheny’s last album with the company. It really sounds like a “contractually obligated” album, doesn’t it? Like what Lou Reed did when he made Metal Machine Music. All this was was a big “Screw You!” to Geffen Records.
However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. According to Metheny himself, this was just an experiment and Zero Tolerance for Silence is the result of that experiment. It should also be noted that he’s never attempted a similar experience since. In fact, it’s a little hard to come by. You can’t legally find Zero Tolerance for Silence on Spotify or iTunes or any paid music service I could find. You can buy the album on Amazon and Ebay but if you pay more than a dollar, you’ve paid too much.
Next week, we go from the worst album I own to one of my favorite hip hop albums of all time.