I don’t relish being the cranky heavy telling The Kids not to have their fun, but what I have to say must be said by someone, and it may as well be me. It will be taken as it’s taken, and that will be that. On this point, I can remain silent no longer. We need to talk about your smartphone, and the videos you keep taking in my line of sight at the show one of my favorite bands is playing, a show we both paid the same amount of money to attend.
This shouldn’t even be an issue, your camera shouldn’t keep getting in my way, considering how much taller I am than you, but you keep raising the fucking thing up over your head as high as you can to try and improve your vantage point (it’s not working, by the by). This means, among other things, that I have to watch the happenings on stage through the space formed in the middle of your outstretched arms and phone, and that ain’t gonna fly.
Word to the wise: your video blows. A whole truckload of ass. I can see it as it’s being filmed, and it’s total shit. What’s more, they all are, every single one you take under these exact conditions.
Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not Marty Scorsese (and even he’s had his problems filming live music). You’re just some asshole with a phone made by a slave on the other side of the world, and enough is enough. You need to put that shit down and enjoy yourself, here and now, in this room, along with me and everybody else.
What if this is the greatest show you will ever see in your life, and instead of taking the experience on its face, intermingling with it and allowing yourself to be elevated by it, all you end up with for your $25 is a shaky video that sounds like garbage? Instead of, you know, an actual memory? Something that might stick with you for the rest of your life?
How about this: what’s your favorite all-time band? For our purposes, let’s say it’s the Clash. It probably isn’t the Clash, because you’re lame, but humor me. Your favorite band is the Clash, and we’re going to go watch the Clash in a London club in 1978.
Here, get in my time machine. Bring yourself as you are, dressed in your current clothes and with your pocket electronic device. Don’t worry, it’ll still work. You can even use it on the flight. Here we go…
Hey, alright! 1978! Why does it smell like shit?
We have to get to the show early, and beforehand stand in a line that snakes around the block. No way around it, this is how things are done back here. Don’t drink too much, either, please. Maybe pocket a flask of water or something to stay hydrated, but you don’t want to have to keep leaving this intense of a crowd to use the restroom. Once we’re in there, it’s every man or woman for his or her self, and I can’t be held responsible for what happens once the music begins.
Okay, then, we’re inside, shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, ass-to-front, united by our love of this band, and holy shit! Joe Strummer just walked out onto the stage! And to one side Paul Simonon, the other Mick Jones! And Topper back behind the kit, ready for a slaughter! The music blasts off, and there’s nothing stopping the energy!
“WHITE RIOT! I WANNA RIOT!” Strummer shouts into the microphone, the levels all off, the PA garbled, the playing sloppy, the guys odd-looking, but real power conjured, undeniable. People pogo around us, raise their fists, jump into each other. Everyone connects with the singer, the band, this righteous, angry music.
We’re a part of this, active participants. This scene envelopes us; this show becomes us. Bodies crash, sweat coats, the band hits a gear you’re not used to, I can feel it. There’s no space for remove, it’s just us and this band, and these people, the musicians playing for all of us bound together in this moment, in this room, it feels good, we earn our exhaustion, it doesn’t slow us down, we ignore it, there’s no time to be worn out, not when there’s still so much jumping up and down to do!
“LONDON’S BURNING!” Strummer screams as a new song kicks off and fuck yeah it is, we’re here and it’s awesome and the show won’t stop until it’s good and ready. We’re taking this ride, and whatever happens in this space, we’ll have been here for it, this alchemy, this magic, atavistic, communal, defiant. A chance for connection, for feeling, a reason to be alive!
What a show!
And we’re back!
You probably didn’t notice it, not once that whole time we were banging around in that club, but you never stood back, set yourself apart from everything you were otherwise involved with, raised your arms as high as you could, and filmed thirty seconds of shaky, washed out video with crummy sound. You won’t ever care, either, that you weren’t able to capture the moment when the band hit the first chorus of “Career Opportunities”, because the moment itself is going to stick with you, re-animated on the inside surface of your eyeballs every time you hear that song, with no outside record necessary.
Because here’s the deal with a live show: people pay money to see their favorite performers do what they do, and in that process we stand together in a room with people of like minds and tastes to enjoy whatever happens in that space, as it happens, following which it’s gone forever, except within the hearts and minds of those us present. That’s what we sign up for when we buy a ticket. Interaction with life, participation with art. In a word, Experience.
Somewhere along the way, however, certain companies began to make and sell devices that save “Experience” for later digestion and review, to the detriment of whatever is being experienced in the first place. Normal people have been given free reign to take the present off, to not engage with it directly, to do something else other than hand themselves over to a given moment of which they willingly made themselves a part. We are currently free to come to a place and experience the thing we came to experience through the filter of a sight-and-sound-recording device which produces something for our later enjoyment that, on review, will sound and look much worse than the event did in the first place, and to which we’ll have a lessened emotional attachment than if we had participated to the utmost as said event happened.
Stop and think a second about how fucking stupid that sounds.
I mean, come on. LOOK at that video. See for yourself. Try to listen, for as long as you can stand it. Better yet, maybe just watch it with the sound low. Mostly all you can hear are the high notes and the drums, maybe a little bit of guitar, and those idiots next to you talking throughout your footage about whatever the hell. The perspective is all off, too. The lights didn’t do any favors, and that LED thing the band had in back of the stage was tough to pick up, further skewing the color scheme. There was also that bright sign to stage left, washing everything out, and the members of the band wouldn’t stay in the same place long enough to get a good group shot…
What I’m saying is, to have been there, to have seen the show and danced around and had a good time, is what’s awesome, not your video evidence of you having been there. You want proof you went to a show, an artifact to put forth to validate your tribal allegiance, buy a t-shirt, and wear it around town. Buy a sticker, and slap it on your guitar, your notebook, your bike. Tell your friends. Pay it forward. Help the band. This piece of shit video you took means nothing, and it never will, not even to you, because it sucks. It really, truly does.
So put your phone away, please, god dammit, and stop trying to clear a space around you in a crowd so you can get the shots you want. If you seriously want to record video that looks and sounds good, do it like a professional, and get a good camera and a press pass. At the very least, go stand in the back and use the fucking zoom, you jerk. However accomplished, get the fuck out of the way. Some of us are trying to dance, thank you very much.
We’re here, the band’s here. You should try being here, too.