Our current dog, Storm Small, doesn’t care for music. He certainly doesn’t care for anything I care to play. He puts up with the music from the television only because the television sits in the same room where he prefers to sleep. I think he enjoys the piano at the beginning of Battlestar Galactica. He won’t admit it, though.

But our first dog, Emma, was an astute critic with a complicated relationship with music. It was based on geography. If I was working in the garage and she was at her post in the open door, making sure I didn’t wander away and get lost, she made no objection to anything that played on the radio. Unless it was “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction. When I heard the opening guitar I knew I had about three seconds to hit OFF before the dogs on the song started barking and Emma went to DEFCON 1.

Things were different indoors, where Emma slept for years under my desk. Everything was fine until I took my headphones off. Emma would stay put for music by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, and their Baroque contemporaries, but not for anything earlier or later. Chanting made her growl, and she had a particular dislike for the Seattle scene of the ’90s. Also for Pink Floyd. When confronted with Soundgarden or Dark Side of the Moon, she’d pack up and find someplace else for her regularly scheduled day-long nap.

What’s in a name? I’ll tell you what’s in a name
In the late ’90s, I worked for a computer game company called Sierra On-Line. Sierra On-Line has been bought and sold many times (twice while I was there); today it’s just a name they slap on a box or a download. But in those days the company was alive and well and churning out games, most of them with “Quest” in the title, such as Quest for Glory, King’s Quest, Police Quest, and Space Quest (but not Jonny Quest).

Quest for Glory was a fantasy role-playing game with a sense of humor. Puns, anyway. The fifth title in the series, Quest for Glory: Dragon Fire, featured a soundtrack by the composer Chance Thomas. You can get something done with a name like Chance. It sounds just like Race Bannon from Jonny Quest, and he was the guy who was always saving his egghead employer from yetis, spies, and aliens. One of my chess kids was named Chance. He’s in high school now, but while I had him he once shaved a dollar sign into his hair. He has a brother named Hurricane (of course he has a brother named Hurricane), who is in the fifth grade and who dunks his head in a bucket of ice water before every tournament. Oh, why was I named Steve??

I traded emails with Chance Thomas as our career paths crossed, and when QFG: Dragon Fire wrapped he generously sent me a CD of the soundtrack. Fantasy RPGs aren’t my thing, no matter how funny they are, and I figured that Chance’s soundtrack wouldn’t be either (it wasn’t), but he had taken the time to send it so I played it.

I don’t remember it now, except that it was fairly dramatic and occasionally raucous and nothing like the serenity of Handel’s Water Music. And yet, though I was not wearing my headphones, Emma didn’t abandon her den under my desk. In fact, the music made her relax. In fact, as the music progressed she reached her relaxation release point, which I detected around the 30-minute mark. I immediately deployed one of the emergency candles I kept at my desk for this purpose. When you own a dog you laugh every day, though sometimes it’s not until the next day.

My father-in-law was fond of saying that dogs have only one thing to say and only one way to say it. Emma had more tools in her critical repertoire than you’d expect from a dog, and she displayed a talent for brevity that I lack. In the time it took me to write these 700 words, Emma would’ve made her opinion known and gone outside to eat a bug. I don’t understand the opinion she was expressing with her violation of the international ban on chemical warfare, but then I don’t always understand Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, either.

If there’s a lesson here, it escapes me. I wrote this because I heard “Been Caught Stealing” and realized I only knew the first three seconds.


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