it’s okay to just have the experience

17 Jun

The last big rock show I went to was Queensryche last month, and although I enjoyed the show a great deal, so much of the audience spent the whole thing standing in the aisles (and in my way, more often than not) watching not the show itself, but the little four or five inch representation of the show on the screen of their smartphone. Everybody angling for the “best” angle and such interrupted my ability to take it all in, and I’m sure all the amateur cinematographers didn’t enjoy it as much as they probably could have.

I get that camera phones are ubiquitous these days; heck, I shot a couple of photos myself at some recent shows, and I often post photos of my shows that other people are kind enough to post (I know I’m still naive enough to get a kick out of people digging our stuff enough to take photos and share them…). But, I also understand that not all artists, especially big deal folks who want to use a small intimate show to work out new material before release (and don’t want substandard versions to leak out*) might not feel the same way. Bootlegging has gotten a hell of a lot easier since a friend-of-a-friend acquaintance used to sneak a crap recording rig into Philly clubs stuffed into a couple of Altoids tins to get lo-fi recordings for the tape trade. Back in the olden days (i.e. the early-90s), people still used “the internet” for this stuff, but dialup was still a thing and mp3 wasn’t, so people haunted BBS systems and snail-mailed TDKs to each other – relatively low volume and low tech.

Today, stuff is on Youtube before people leave the venue. The entertainment industry is aware, and trying (and usually failing to stay ahead of the game). A few years ago when I was more of a road warrior for work, I’d managed to get myself on a private list to score passes for advance press screenings of upcoming movies. More than once, the organizers would confiscate cell phones from attendees before granting admission to the theater – a popular model was giving everybody a brown paper bag to write a name/number on; stuffing the phone/camera inside, and stashing it in a box under the counter until after the show, where it could be retrieved with ID or a claim ticket. Inelegant, and stuff still got out, but it was an effort.

The industry’s latest response is this, a proximity driven lock pouch, that won’t open inside the performance space. I suppose this’ll work, though people’s complaints about legitimate emergency use are probably valid. It’s another try, but I suspect it probably won’t catch on or be particularly effective, because none of this stuff is.

I’m not begrudging the industry here, in part because they’d rather sell us the best version of their work on their schedule, and also because I’m old enough to remember going to live shows before smartphones (or cell phones at all) were a thing, and we totally survived. Heck, I think we enjoyed ourselves more. Excuse me while I put my old man pants on (white belt and shoes optional), but I kind of miss when people just enjoyed the experience. Sometimes, your memory is good enough -enjoy the spontaneity of the performance play out; take the whole picture in, and don’t worry about framing everything for later consumption (and honestly, how often does anybody really play these poorly shot amateur videos back anyway – most of them are un-viewable, and just take up storage space on the SD card!).

Trust me, you’re probably missing some really cool stuff, not the least of which is the communal experience everyone in the venue – artist and audience alike – could be having with each other. When everyone’s deep into their phones, we’re all there, but we’re not *there*. Also, as a performer, I’m able to give a lot more to an audience when I can see people’s faces and reactions, rather than a bunch of rectangles with lenses on them; live performance, especially the kind of shows I go to and play, really is a collaborative experience; If you’re out there watching through the filter of your phone, you’re not doing your part, and, as a wise performer friend of mine is fond of saying, “this’ll all go a lot more smoothly if you just participate.” You’re also cheating yourself out of the best part of the experience.

Here’s the thing – the only thing we can really ever take with us is our memories and our experiences; don’t miss out on the moment you’re in because you’re trying (in vain) to capture it for later; it doesn’t really work that way, no matter how good your photo or recording might be (and trust me, it’s probably not that good). Any recording of, say, Jonah Knight‘s “last” show at Ravencon this year, when he brought everybody together in a circle in front of the stage and we all sang “King of Nebraska” together is going to pale in the face of the memory of having been there and being an active participant in the experience.

Put the phone away. Heck, if you can manage, leave it in the car or at home. Enjoy life in the round; outside the viewfinder. Be part of the experience.

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* – this was the reasoning that musician friends at the time always gave, anyway. I don’t think it’s wrong, necessarily, but it never quite resonated with me; maybe I’m just not the perfectionists they were. Live, spontaneous performance, even with a little tarnish on the shine, works for me the way a lot of professional studio recordings don’t..

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