Embracing The Technology… A Twenty-Year (R)evolution

About a million years ago, I was young. Right around that time (okay, it was 1988 or thereabouts), my best friend at the time (we’re still friends, but 23 years has put space and perspective between us) managed to score fourth-row seats to a David Bowie concert. I think he was still licking his wounds from the lashing I gave him for never taking me to see U2 the year before while we were both studying (and U2 was touring) in Great Britain. To make up for that heinous oversight (note to the yunguns: Before Spiderman, before The Joshua Tree, U2 was as hipster as you could get and far from ubiquitous), he offered me a seat beside him, feet from The Thin White Duke himself.

I was heavy into photography at that time. Again, this was back in the day when I kept ample amounts of bleech under my bathroom sink to rid my nails of the fixer brown that made it seem as though I were a chain smoker. I shot, processed, and printed my work all by my little lonesome in a lab at the University of South Carolina (frequently not all by my little lonesome, but I digress…). Anyhoo… Back in the day of canisters of film, a little trick we photographers had was never to wind the exposed film all the way back into the canister. If you left the “tail” extended, you could thread your film in the light prior to processing it, which was infinitely easier than doing this in pitch black darkness. Thus, my canisters always had a wee bit of tail sticking out, even after I’d shot the roll.

So, I was happily shooting Mr. Bowie’s fabo performance while dancing along and enjoying my “date.” I’d just put in a second roll of film when a guy five rows back got busted for taking pictures. Audiences back in the day were proscribed from crushing each other to death (this was not too many years after the Who stampede, which—if memory served—happened in Toledo or thereabouts), but that didn’t make certain audience members less vindictive. The bastard pointed me out (I was not even taking a picture at that moment), and the security guard demanded my film right then and there, straight from the camera. I obliged him, reluctantly.

Of course, what he didn’t know was that not only had I previously shot a roll, I still had one more roll of unexposed film in my bag. Thus, once he had retreated, I popped in the other roll and was able to get off a few more shots before the concert’s end. When I got around to processing the film, however, I noted that I had inadvertently grabbed the first role, resulting in double exposed film. At first I was devastated. Then, angry—both at the security guard and myself—for the wasted film. I assumed that the double exposure ruined my shots. As you can tell by this photo, however, what I ended up with approached art. I had somehow in the dark managed to thread my film slightly differently, meaning each of my second set of shots was perfectly positioned “behind” the first set, giving that silhouette/profile appearance that was all the rage back in 1970s elementary school pictures.

Which brings me to my point. Back in the day, it was assumed that photographing any aspect of a concert would result in the ruination of the business. If enough people could somehow (this was pre-Internet, remember) manage to release photos and or boot-legs, the artist would never sell another record in his whole life, let alone another concert ticket. There were bands that deliberated would fly in the face of this notion (Phish, among them), but that didn’t convince the industry that recording devices wouldn’t be their downfall.

As it turns out, the industry has changed fundamentally, but it’s is not because of concert recordings. Last week at the Glee concert in East Rutheford, there were thousands of cameras and iPhones recording the event. We wouldn’t be home courtesy of the Port Authority before several hundred of these recordings were circulating on Tumblr and You Tube. In fact, I has already seen most of the best bits online, and my daughter was nearly apoplectic when they cut the “Single Ladies” dance number from the line-up (she knew it was cut because she’d seen it performed everywhere from LA to Cleveland to Toronto!). Did all this wind-up destroy the concert experience? Absolutely not, although there was a bit of a subdued atmosphere to the event, which may have stemmed from everyone there knowing what was on tap (there was more excitement for Gwynneth Paltrow’s cameo, I think, because no one expected it) or it may have stemmed from the traffic jam out to the stadium that turned a 15 minute drive into a 90+ commute of zombie-eque proportions.

Whatever the impact of allowing the audience to record the show en masse, it didn’t reduce ticket sales. Scalpers were making two-10 times the face value (we paid nearly three times the value on StubHub). The place was mostly sold out (I think the scalpers got a bit greedy, or it may have been that a section of the seats went unsold because they were filming the 3D movie that night and the boom would have blocked those folks had the seats been occupied). Either way, the mostly sold out house loved the show, even though many of them appeared to be viewing throuth the lens of a cellphone.

Technology has not killed the concert scene. And David Bowie is still selling tickets. The kids are alright.

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