Unsound Effects

Elsewhere on this site (buried, I believe, somewhere in the “Comments” section) there is a lively debate on whether fundamental concert/show etiquette permits people who are not on stage to sing along with those who are performing on the stage. My contention continues to be that if you pay your money to hear a band perform, then you are entitled to hear said band perform without the accoutrements of people who have also paid their money to sit in the audience along with you. Too often I have been in the audience at, say, Elvis Costello concerts only to listen to what sounds like a variety of people with their ankles being progressively crunched by industrial-strength bear traps during “Allison.” “I know this world is killing you,” indeed.

There is undoubtedly a ring in Dante’s hell that he chose not to describe for those ticket-holders who not only sing at shows with the type of gusto ordinarily found only on the Miss America Pageant or “Ed McMahon’s Stars of Tomorrow,” but who choose to accompany their vocalizations with dancing of a sort that is typically best described as Joe Cocker on a bad day. Yes, we all know, a la Miss Kiki Dee, that you’ve got the music in you, but could you please just keep it there until you are in the confines of your own home? Do you expect the person on stage to suddenly stop and with fear-cum-admiration announce that you are clearly a more talented person than they and therefore they’ll be promptly relinquishing the microphone to you?

I am not suggesting that people go to concerts and sit on their hands, but I continue to be puzzled by the need to let loose with lyrics and gyrations. Certainly, there are cases during which your senses are altered by alcohol or chemicals and consequently you’ve just got to bust out with your own, parallel rendition of whatever songs are being performed. But just as you imagine that, under the same conditions, you tell the best jokes and are invariably appealing to the opposite sex, know well that (a) the only ones who laugh at the jokes are those who are similarly impaired and (b) mouth drool is attractive only on those whose age is measured in months.

While I am certain that there are many who are outraged at these observations, figuring me to be a sequoia-sized stick in the mud, I am similarly certain that there is fairly uniform agreement that one place where people just ought to, well, to put it as it needs to be put, “shut the fuck up” is at the movie theater. How many times have you sat next to people who have to state the evident with a volume that drowns out the Sony Digital Sound? What is puzzling is that it invariably seems that the person making the comments never fails to observe the obvious, like seeing Estella Warren in Planet of the Apes and saying, “She doesn’t look like an ape,” or “Look, it’s the Japanese!” as the planes file through the Pali in Pearl Harbor.

That said, there is one theater that I’m similarly certain that many of us would want to sit in and would relish the comments. That theater, of course, is behind the multiple doors on the ship that is the setting of Mystery Science Theater 3000. A crack from Crow or Tom Servo is often worth the price of admission. There are few TV shows that have exhibited the nigh-Asian cleverness of MST3K. Mike Nelson, who was the head writer for the show for 10 seasons and who replaced Joel as the host when Joel managed to get back to Earth, has written a book that is de rigueur to film fans everywhere, even though it will probably never be footnoted in Film Comment. It’s called Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese, and consists of an array of his compact musings on what passes as popular culture at the multiplex nearest you (as well as takes on TV). (Interestingly, it seems as though Nelson saw most of the films he probed on DVD, not in a venue with stadium-seating and invariably sticky floor. Perhaps he realized that he would have been unable to keep his mouth shut during the performance and, regardless of the relevance of the bon mots he’d throw off, he’d be shunned by other patrons, if not pelted with Milk Duds.)

All of which brings me to the reason for this, which is not to be dismissive of those who sing and dance during stage shows or to chastise those with logorrhea during movies. Rather, to quote from Nelson’s book on a subject near and dear to this site, music. In one section of MNMM, he examines a number of families in film: the Arquettes, Baldwins, Culkins, Wayans, Penns. . .and Dillons. With the last being Matt and Kevin. Kevin is in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. Nelson takes the opportunity to make some observations about Jim Morrison, about whom he notes, “It probably doesn’t help that I’ve always loathed Morrison.” But not being satisfied with just making that comment, he goes on to provide a tangible reason for finding the Lizard King to be more disturbing than numerous fans did in Florida. Nelson writes,

Even if you are a fan of Jim Morrison’s poetry (and if you are, may I say, thank you for taking the time to read my book, and please know how much I understand how badly the world has hurt you as it has hurt me so many, many times. It’s us against them, my friend!), you can’t deny that his voice is very much like any given dad’s voice singing clumsily from the shower as he soaps his beefy arms. Just stop for a moment and imagine Morrison’s ham-fisted baritone shouting out his idiotic free verse “Break on through to the other side,” and now imagine your own father in his tiled stall mindlessly singing the same verse. See? They’re indistinguishable!

I suspect that you’ll never listen to “Touch Me” quite the same way again.

3 thoughts on “Unsound Effects”

  1. Singing along has never been a problem at any of the Morrissey shows I’ve been to. Wasn’t a problem at any Depeche Mode concerts either. But……that moron that stood next to me at the Mazzy Star show back in 95 really pissed me off!Really though, come on. At most shows the music is so loud you can’t hear yourself sing. I only get annoyed during ‘quiet’ and ‘serious’ concerts, such as this year’s Lucinda Williams tour, where I’d much rather just chill-out during the slower moments, than listen to some half-bald-grey-haried-poney-tailed-idiot wail at the top of his lungs. (whoever coined the term “no depressioner” really must have been joking)

  2. Hello there, My name is Proptronics, and being a half-bald-grey-haired-pony-tailed man in the djembe drum making field, I was torn apart by the comments made on Dec 12 / 2001 about half-bald-grey-haired-pony-tailed-idiots. That inspiration led me to write numerous drum circle rhythms and chants, 10 in total featured on a Charity CD called “Drums Of Hope For Middle-Aged Hippies” I have created and produced at BadDancer Studio in Vermont this CD to raise funds for the replacement of the grey hair on my temples. Due to the success of the site we created our own domain. It is up and running. I live in a VW Bus on state owned forest and I am even trying to make a difference to help my balding brothers around the country. I have 3 verses that I wrote on the last concert I went to for Jimmy Buffet to honor him. One is called “Let’s Dance In Front of Short People” one called ” 20 minutes of begging for my favorite song” as well as “Saviours of My Margarita” done for Thomas Burnett Jr and Mark Bingham who caught my drink that I damned near knocked over. Other tracks featured are in honor of the men like myself titled “God Has Come Calling ” as well as ” I do Believe in Singing Along” In Honor of everyone touched by the spirit of crowd sing-alongs. We are doing a run of 1000 copies and they are now on sale from Canada Disc and Tape. with 100% of the money raised going to the transplant of root hairs to my temples. I am just so happy to be making a difference, but need some help to get the word out about my story and my efforts. Since by trade I am not in the music area and this was a great challenge for me, but I stuck with it and completed this 23 track Charity CD in honor of the many that sing and dance their asses off despite our appearance. Please have a look at our site , spread the word and help this fund raiser grow and thrive. On the site there are constant updates, order info, track layout with some sound bytes as well as information on other local area residents that helped me with this project. If there is anything you can with a donation of your local resources to help with this charity cd project please contact me via the e-mail listed below. I thank you for your time and help. Sincerely,Proptronics

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