A couple of friends of mine are at the Billy Joel concert at Wrigley Field tonight. One of them posted an update saying they happened to be sitting behind the dumbest audience member in the place, someone who tried to join in the revelry by lighting up her phone’s flashlight and holding the device above her head, like people used to do with cigarette lighters.
Only this genius held the device backward, and the flashlight shone right into the eyes of my friend and her husband.
It reminded me that weird/stupid/rude audience members have been on my mind lately. Now that I’m going to a lot of events, I am encountering audiences more, and the experience isn’t always pleasant.
Some of them are wonderful, to be sure. Like the woman who sat next to me in a hot theatre and started fanning herself, sending a cooling breeze my way. I leaned over and thanked her for doing “God’s work”, and she started a conversation (as Portlanders do, which is straight-up awesome), and the next thing you know, we were comparing childhoods in Catholic school and horrible nuns and being a mother. I don’t remember her name, but we sure had a great time laughing our asses off before the concert began.
But others aren’t so great.
I seem to have a penchant for being seated directly behind the drunkest fan in the joint, or the loudest, or the most enthusiastic. At the United Center, I was behind the drunk fan who stood and yelled at the officials every five minutes. We were on the 300 level, so the chance that the officials would hear and obey the fan’s wishes were slender. Seated next to me was the second-drunkest fan who wanted to chat. All. Night. Long. Dude, I know it’s a hockey game and not a library, but seriously…I came here for the guys on the ice, not you.
At a chamber concert, I was seated behind a tall woman with huge dangly earrings. No big deal, until the music started and she started bobbing her head to the beat. It was a fast piece. Those earrings could have sliced her skin, they were bouncing around so much. I tried to shift positions so I could see around her, but she had some kind of ESP about my sight-lines, and kept moving right in front of me, earrings flapping away. She didn’t miss a single beat of the entire performance. By the end, I wanted to yank the earrings off her head.
At the Bruce Cockburn concert, we were seated near some lovely people who surprised us with drinks before the show began. So sweet. And then we talked and became friendly and everything was wonderful. And then the guy sitting in front of us was clearly trying to learn Bruce’s guitar solos by copying his hand movements in the air. Every solo. Maybe I’m too distractable, but I couldn’t stop looking at him. I wanted to see if he succeeded. It’s like watching somebody play a video game; you have no stake in the outcome, but you watch anyway, just to see if they can win.
At a jazz concert, the woman sitting to my right was familiar with the performer’s work, and very enthusiastically applauded and cheered every song. But at the final song, when the performer brought out his “finale” fireworks, she just went ape-shit.
Now, I’m familiar with the jazz idiom and its fans. I know jazz is a conversation, it’s interactive, it’s a function on some levels of the energy brought forth from the crowd. I get it. Some commentary isn’t just expected, it’s encouraged. I understand. And I accept that–to a point.
This woman was narrating each phrase with “oh WOW” or “Unbelievable” or “Incredible.” Not softly, either. No, loud and clear, so that everyone around her knew how impressed she was. My favorite was “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” What an odd phrase. Someone, please, give her a chewy caramel, a Now and Then, a Laffy Taffy to get me through the rest of the set.
But the one that started it all was, in fact, a Billy Joel concert so many years ago. It was 1986, his Bridge tour, and my college roommate and I went to the Checkerdome in St. Louis to see him play. It was my first “real” concert, and I was excited to be in a big city on my own watching my favorite popular musician in this huge venue. It was really a great concert.
Except for the guy sitting directly in front of me.
Now, I don’t know if he felt he had to drink to tolerate the music, because he clearly wasn’t into it, but he was SOUSED. And again, we’re in the upper seats, not close enough for him to make anyone on stage pay attention, but he had a lot to say. At the time, Billy was married to Christie Brinkley, and Drunk Guy spent most of the concert standing on his unsteady feet and shouting “WHERE’S CHRISTIE?” at the top of his lungs. Over and over, “Where’s Christie?” as any answer would satisfy him. He just wanted to see the gorgeous model, not the troll piano player. Why did he pay good money for tickets to see the troll? Who knows.
He must have been really, really drunk. And all of these people, on some level, were just enjoying themselves. I get it. Maybe they were fulfilling a bucket-list wish and seeing a chamber concert for the first (and only) time. I don’t know. In the moment, I try to remind myself that everyone is just trying to have a good time, and people show happiness in lots of different ways. It’s just happiness, I tell myself. They’re happy and they want to show it.
I wish there were some way to divine when I’m buying my tickets where the “happiest” audience member would be seated. I’ll just buy my tickets strategically, and seat myself in the quiet section. Wherever that is.