Saturday, October 29, 2016

Flying the Concorde (Experiences)

Flying the Concorde for many was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I have few regrets in life.  One minor regret that I have is that I had an opportunity to fly on the Concorde, just before it went out of service, and I decided not to do it.   The tickets weren't cheap, but they were offering discounts and we could have swung it, if we reset our priorities.  It would have been quite an experience.  I could have flown over on the Concorde and then sailed back on the QE2.   But it seemed like a "lot of money" at the time, so instead, we went to Home Depot and put some shitty little amount of money on our credit card instead, to buy some useless home tchotchke which has long ago gone into the trash. 

Of course, there are others who were fortunate enough to fly the Concorde on a regular basis.   And I suppose, over time, just like WW II Veterans and Men Who Walked On The Moon, folks who flew the Concorde will die off, until one day, maybe in my lifetime, there will be a news story about "the last person to fly the Concorde has passed away".

I mean, they talk a lot about a "next generation" supersonic passenger plane, but nothing much ever comes of it.   It turns out, there isn't much of a business case for it, just as there wasn't much of a business case for the original Concorde - but they built it anyway, such was the optimism of the 1960's.  I suspect, going forward, with virtual reality being the "next big thing" we will see a drop in airline travel.   Or if it is to continue, it will be along the lines of the current cattle-car low-cost model.

But I digress.   The point is, sometimes you should just say "fuck it" and do things before time runs out.   Because you likely won't have a chance again in your lifetime to experience that thing.   For example, we were in Jacksonville the other day to see the Squirrel Nut Zippers, or at least a band calling itself that, and saw that Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate, would be playing next month.   Now, I am not a huge Bob Dylan fan or groupie or anything, but it struck me that this was an excellent opportunity to see him in my lifetime, live.  Growing up in the 1960's he was part of our culture and today a cultural icon.   So we bought the tickets, which ironically were fairly cheap.   Hopefully the experience will be more authentic than the re-constituted Zippers.

(By the way, that is precisely why I think Dylan was so ambivalent about receiving the Nobel Prize.   Being given an award like that is a bit like being bronzed - you are no longer a person, but a cultural icon.   And while I think he enjoys being baked, perhaps not bronzed).

The Squirrel Nut Zippers experience was interesting to say the least.  As an official "old person" my view of live concerts has changed over time.  Large crowds and loud noises are less appealing to me than when I was in my 20's.  The last time we saw the Zippers live was in 1998 at the Club 9:30 in Washington DC.   And live performances (and the Zippers) were different back then.   We all crammed into my creaky old grey-market Mercedes and drove into the District, finding a place to park right in front of the club.

Club 9:30 had a martini bar on the balcony, as well as a cigar bar downstairs.   It was the 1990's, of course, and we all did that - sipped martinis, chomped on cigars, and pretended to play golf.   We found seats right in the center of the balcony and had a great view.  The band was great and everyone had a good time and no one in the audience decided to make it all about them instead.

Fast-forward 20 years and the smart phone has been invented.   Enjoying music in a live venue has changed a lot.   For starters, at the Zippers show in Jacksonville, there were a lot of people texting and yes, even talking, on their smart phones during the show.  But that was not the worst of it.  Others decided they had to "document" the entire experience by making an hour-long video with their smart phone (in vertical mode, no less - how annoying to watch) and held their phone over their heads.   This of course, is annoying, as you are distracted from the actual performance by this tiny screen on the phone of the asshole in front of you.   And the asshole making the video isn't really enjoying the show, but rather seeing it all through a tiny screen.

I realized this back in the early 1990's when I bought an 8mm camcorder.   I quickly realized I was not experiencing real-life, but life through a viewfinder.   What's more, no one wanted to watch my shitty 8mm videos anyway.   So I put the camcorder away and that was that.

Today, we have "social media" and in particular, Facebook.   People post these boring videos on their Facebook pages, not because they expect people to actually watch them, but in order to say, "Gee, look at me!  I am at a cool concert!" and thus groom their online image and try to make everyone else feel jealous of their glamorous lifestyle.  It is fucking annoying.

Speaking of annoying, the blonde 20-something behind me decided that taking flash pictures with her camera throughout the show was a swell idea.   Again, this desire to document for Facebook, because "if there are no pix, it didn't happen!" or so they say.   Her cell phone camera would make an annoying pre-flash before it actually took the picture, and as a natural reaction, I would turn around and glare at her and her camera after the pre-flash, causing an unintentional photo-bombing of all her pictures.

"Gee, those are great pictures of the concert Greta, but who's the angry old fuck glaring at you in every photo?"

Age indeed was another factor of the concert.   Many of the audience were like myself - old folks who had been listening to the band since the 1990's.   But apparently they have attracted a new generation of "hipsters" who were mere children or not even born when their first album came out (I know this because some of them were carded at the bar before the show).   

And when I say "hipsters" you know the routine - guys with Hitler haircuts and lumberjack beards.   Trying just a little too hard to be cool and hip.   I guess we did the same sort of thing back in the day, too.  One of my friends who went to the 1998 concert was wearing rubber pants and Doc Martins which I guess were a "thing" with his club scene and at raves.   Of course, he never posted pictures of them to his "feed" because that shit didn't exist.

Some venues, of course, are trying to cut back on this nonsense.   Cell phones are not allowed and if you whip one out, you are asked to leave.  Some performers have actually stopped their shows when people start to record the event.   Long before smart phones, most venues explicitly said, before each performance, that no recording devices or cameras were to be used during the performance.   Back then it was a copyright issue.  Today it is one of common courtesy.   But for some reason, the smartphone generation thinks that smart phones don't apply.

It reminds me of the time we were in London, seeing that Harry Potter kid appear in Equus.   There were lots of young Potter groupies there, all wanting to see Daniel Radcliffe's "bits and bobs" and a young woman in the seat ahead of us was all set, with her flash camera at the ready.   An usher walked up to her before the show, and in his best John Houseman voice said, "Young Lady, this is the Theater, and in the Theater we do not take pictures!"

She put her camera away.   And for the whole performance, no one took theirs out or tried to take photos.   People were well-behaved.  Back then.

Today, things have changed.  If you google "Smart phone concert" you see sites with tips on "Smart phone etiquette" for taking photos and videos at concerts.  Or a page decrying the "dumb idea" of banning picture taking at concert events.   People just don't get it.

(Some "fans" however argue that they have a right to film, record, or photo events, and that performers should be "grateful" that they are doing so, as it promotes the band's brand.  This illustrates the evil nature of fandom - people who take, take, take, but never give.   If you really respect a performer, you would not say silly shit like that, and moreover, not stalk them or try to invade their personal lives.  Fans are sad, lonely people who try to steal the identity of a performer in order to enhance their own dreary lives.   But again, I digress).

How times have changed.   Social media and the smart phone seem to have made a whole generation of people into assholes of the first order.  What is important to them is documenting their lives so it can appear on social media.  Whether this inconveniences or ruins the experience for others really doesn't matter - because the experience doesn't matter, but rather just the bragging rights to say you went to it.  "Look at me!  I went to a concert!"

Apparently, Dylan is one of a growing number of artists who are strictly enforcing a "no smart phone" policy, and I for one applaud this.   If you go to see someone perform, then go see them perform.   Experience the moment, don't try to document it for posterity.  Because as a documentarian, you are missing out on the experience of the moment.

And worse yet, you are causing a lot of other people to miss the experience as well.

P.S. - while staying at the hotel, we were treated to 500 channels of cable TV.   Ugh.  I don't know which is more evil - television, smart phones, or social media?   They seem to be the Devil's own trioika.   Life is far better without any of them.