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Tears of a Clown, or Why I’m Really the Problem
My Five Live Music Pet Peeves
I’m the first person to admit that I don’t like live music that much. And yes, I know that this, much like not liking shrimp, is enough to get my “NOLA Card” revoked. But I am an introvert who doesn’t really like crowds or loud noises, and I get secondhand anxiety watching people perform.
True story: When I was about 8, my dad took me to the circus, and I burst into tears because I just got so depressed thinking about how the clowns had to travel from city to city and pretend to be happy even if they weren’t. “Why are you crying?!” my dad asked, justifiably annoyed that after he’d bought tickets and paid for parking and even laid down $10 for overpriced snacks I was weeping forlornly in my seat. I was unable to articulate it, and I tried to get it together, but I am pretty sure we left just after the acrobats, and I have never gone to another circus.
About 10 years later, probably 1999, I saw Chuck Berry perform at the Blue Note in Columbia, Mo., with a bunch of college friends. I had a similar moment of angst as one particular guy in the crowd kept screaming, “‘Johnny B. Goode!’ ‘Johnny B. Goode’! ‘Johnny B. Goode’!” When Chuck Berry finally played “Johnny B. Goode,” the guy switched to screaming, “‘Maybellene’! ‘Maybellene’! ‘Maybellene’!”
“Can you imagine,” I said mournfully later that night to my friend Aaron, a fellow introvert but also an aspiring musician, “just standing up there and trying to play your songs and people are just screaming at you to play your greatest hits? What if you want to play something new and people just keep screaming over you to play something you wrote 40 years ago? So depressing.”
“Nah,” he said, surprising me by disagreeing. “I think any musician worth his salt knows he has to play that songs that made him big. It’s part of the deal, right?”
“I guess that’s why I’m going to be a writer and you’re going to be a musician,” I told him, and now, 20 years later, that’s pretty much what we are, albeit lower level.
But I thought about that when I read Errol Laborde’s list of his Top 5 Live Music Peeves.
His are all performer-based, including, as mentioned, bands not playing the song people came to hear.
I decided to come up with my own list of live music pet peeves, although mine is audience-based. And for the record, I do go to see live music occasionally – I’m not a complete shut-in – and I usually have a great time, particularly during Jazz Fest, so it’s not like I am pulling these completely out of thin air. (Errol is way hipper than I am, though, because never, not even in my youth, did I attempt to go to a show that started at midnight, my GOD.) Like Errol, I will start at 5 and work down to No. 1.
5. People who push in front of you. Look, I am 5 feet tall, and I know I’m never going to be able to see much of a show that doesn’t have ticketed seating. Most concerts just look like a bunch of armpits and butts to me. But occasionally, I do get a spot where I can see, and almost inevitably, someone who is 18 feet tall pushes in front of me. The flip side of this is that a few times, people have offered to let me stand in front of them, which is always appreciated. I don’t expect to be able to see everything, but please be mindful of the people you’re shoving past. Everyone wants to be able to see, not just you!
4. Not being careful with your drinks and cigarettes and steel-toed shoes. Look, I know crowds are crazy; that’s part of why I don’t like them. But I hate going home with spilled beer in my hair or with my back sticky from someone’s wayward rum-and-Coke or – worse – with cigarette burns on my arms or bruised toes from being crushed. These things happen, but even a small bit of caution would go a long way. Sip your drink down before you wade back into the crowd. Smoke away from people. Just be careful, that’s all.
3. Yelling out songs. I get Errol and my friend Aaron’s point, but you don’t need to scream the artist’s greatest hits repeatedly on a loop. Just chill. They know the song you want to hear. They’ll play it or not. They have their set list picked out for a reason, kind of like when a chef picks ingredients for a dish. Trust the artist or stay home. Even worse are the jokers who scream, “FREE BIRD!” I didn’t even think that was funny when my friends did it in high school; it hasn’t gotten any funnier to me.
2. Being obnoxiously drunk. This is not so bad in New Orleans, where at least the natives can mostly hold their liquor, but it was one of the main reasons I stopped wanting to go to see shows in Missouri. The drunks encompass all of the other bad behaviors: They are the worst offenders for both jostling/shoving/pushing in front of you; they are the loudest, most clueless, and most repetitive yellers; and they are obviously careless with their drinks and smokes and feet. And you know what’s way worse than getting beer spilled on you? Getting barfed on.
1. The obsessive #selfie takers/people who video the whole show. I don’t want to see the show reflected on the tiny screen you’re holding up in front of my face; I’d like to actually see the show. And when I want to relive it? That’s why God gave us a memory. I like to remember shows I’ve seen, not watch them on someone’s iPhone. Does anyone watch their concert videos? I honestly don’t even watch the ones I take of my kids, let alone some concert at Tipitina’s or something.
Like Errol, though, I don’t want to be grumpy. I also acknowledge that most of these behaviors are par for the course, which is why I typically don’t go to see live music.
But I’ll keep trying, both live music and shrimp, and even if I never completely come around, I hope New Orleans will keep me. It’s a city big enough to contain multitudes, and even an introvert or two.