Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Bootleggers or Dicks?

Or: Put Down Your Freakin' Phones!

As a longtime fan of both the bands Genesis and The Police, I have been eagerly seeking any available nuggets of information and anecdotes about the co-headlining tour of those band's respective former front-men, Peter Gabriel and Sting. From everything that I was able to glean from press releases and social media, this was not merely to be an instance of two well known artists doing supporting sets for each other in order to further increase their drawing power; This was to be a unique collaboration in which they would be sharing the stage, adding their voices (literally) to each other's songs in a celebration  of each others' catalogs.

Now this sounds like it could be either a revelation or merely a novelty.

Fortunately, reports have been promising. In a Columbus Dispatch review of the first concert last night at the Nationwide Arena in that city, Curtis Schieber, wrote that, in spite of the fact that there were some kinks to work out, the show was "a memorable combination of major talents, a marriage made of uncommon respect and enthusiasm."

Schieber noted that one of the evening's highlights was when Sting began his performance of the Police classic, "Message in a Bottle," by singing the opening lines of Genesis' "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight:"

"Can you tell me where my country lies?"
Said the unifaun to his true love's eyes
"It lies with me", cried the Queen of Maybe
For her merchandise, he traded in his prize
"Paper late", cried a voice in the crowd
"Old man dies" the note he left was signed 'Old Father Thames'
It seems he's drowned
Selling England by the pound

Schieber writes that the "magical imagery and hook line" added to the performance “Message in a Bottle, "broadening the song’s personal loneliness into a plea for international sanity."

I really wanted to hear this.

Doing so ended up virtually being easier done than said. A link to a video made by a member of the audience appeared in my Facebook feed. I clicked on the link, and even with the relatively poor, distant video and audio, I found myself getting chills from Sting's voice, singing these familiar lyrics but enriching them with a different sound and different intentions. Scheiber was right, I could feel the words hovering still after Sting began playing "Message in a Bottle."

I was glad to see the video, but not pleased as much with why I was able to.

I don't know who uploaded the video, so I can't speak to what his or her motives were, but it has become all too common to see a large percentage of a concert audience as being more inclined to view the show through their camera than experiencing it in the moment. Frankly, it is an incredibly infuriating phenomenon. Whether they are capturing the show as a personal memento, for bragging rights, or simply because they don't believe that an experience is real or valid unless it is captured and placed on social media, it is irritating to other audience members and disrespectful to the artists.

I have had numerous concert experiences at which my enjoyment was considerably compromised due to my view being blocked by a sea of iPhones raised up, and most of the shows I go to are older bands. I was at a Who concert where I could barely see the stage because of these people, and we are talking about an audience that was almost exclusively baby-boomers. I can't imagine what a concert is like when  it is populated entirely by millennials, who apparently simply know of no other way to experience a show. (I mean really, why can't they experience a show the way we used to do it when I was younger? Under the influence of mind altering drugs.)

Fortunately, apparently, other people are as pissed off about this as I am.

A recent article in the Washington Post discussed artists' dissatisfaction with this current state of affairs, and new approaches to rein in such behaviors. Of course, these approaches involve a product, a lock-able neoprene pouch created by a company called Yondr, which concertgoers would be compelled to use. The pouch allows them to carry their phones, but not allow them to access them unless the pouch is unlocked by the doorman outside of the venue. These have been adopted by a number of artists from musicians Alicia Keys and Guns and Roses to comics Dave Chappelle and Louis C.K. Personally, I think it's a great idea, but at the same time, I believe it only deals with the symptom, and not the disease, namely the narcissistic sense of entitlement which allows a person to use their toys to declare: "Look at me! Look where I am! And fuck everyone who gets in the way of me saying 'look me and look where I am!'" This is vanity, not fandom.

For example, one kid, a 24 year old named  Gerard Little (The Washington Post didn't feel the need to protect his identity, so why should I?) said: “In this day and age, my phone is how I keep my memory... Chris Brown. Jason Derulo. I have their footage on my phone. If you don’t want your music heard, then don’t perform it.”

(Aside to Gerard:) Now, I don't know you Gerard, but if your true feelings are expressed in these statements, I would have to say that you are a little asshole admitting that your brain is shrinking too much to actually store a real experience. Also, you have no respect for artists and their ability to decide how to release their work. Lastly, since you apparently go to Chris Brown shows, you support beating the shit out of women. You are the poster child for shitty millennials. (Aside over.)

Marky Ramone, the drummer for, well, you know... The Ramones, once proposed another device to discourage such behavior, but instead of a pouch, it was a Ramones 45 taped to a stick which would be used to knock people's cameras and phones out of their hands when they were being dicks. I kind of like that better in some ways, but what I would really like would be if people could have some sense of propriety and consideration, even in a party atmosphere.

But I know that it is too much to ask.

"But Roger," you may say, "don't you think you're being a hypocrite? You used to collect bootlegs. What's the difference between the tapers of yesteryear (and today) and people capturing the show on their phones? In fact, aren't the people capturing the shows on their phones better than the bootleggers who attempt to profit off of other people's material? And surely a phone in the air is better than a couple of microphones on poles?"

Those are good questions, and for which I think I have good answers.

1. Tapers were about capturing the music. Was there vanity involved? Yes, but it was about pride in getting the best gear and getting the best recording. They got far better results with their equipment, and it was mean to be good enough to be enjoyed by others. They were about capturing the music, not some "I was there" postcard.

2. Contrary to popular belief, bootleggers did not get rich. In the days of actual manufacturing of bootleg albums, there was so much risk, so much potential lost product, and so little actual profit, that it was stupid for anyone to get into the business unless they actually cared about getting deeper into the music than the regular commercial recordings offered. Furthermore, people who bought bootleg recordings did so in addition to commercial releases, hardly ever as an alternative to them. (For more on this, check out Clinton Heylin's book, Bootleg! The Rise and Fall of the Secret Recording Industry.)

3. Microphones on poles are only to be found in designated "tapers' sections" by bands that encourage it. These sections were frequently found at Grateful Dead shows and still are found at shows by the legions of "jam bands" they inspired. In the past, at shows by "non-taper friendly" bands, tapers were forced to come up with other "stealth" methods including microphones hidden in eyeglass frames, hats, and other ways of getting high quality recording that were not only unnoticeable by other audience members, but also by security personnel on the lookout. Was this disrespectful to the bands? Certainly. But in spite of the fact that they ignored the bands' wishes to not be taped, they never wanted to undermine the quality of music with a poor recording or to disrupt the show itself.

I am aware that I am speaking in generalizations, and there are probably a bunch of tapers out there with shitty gear and worse etiquette. I also know that I am opening myself to being criticized for trash talking millennials while trying to defend the behavior of bootleggers, who were deliberately anti-authoritarian. And you would be right, but I am mature enough to admit that I know that I am doing so.

I am not even sure where I am going with this anymore. I guess I just have two points coming out of this. Firstly,  I really want to see Sting and Peter Gabriel when they come to the New York City area. Secondly, the difference between a millennial with a cell phone and a bootlegger is that bootleggers are more considerate and discreet.

And bootleggers love music more than they love themselves.