Recently, Mister Boomer was paging through a newspaper (remember those?) and stopped to look at some pictures of an outdoor rock concert that was held the previous weekend. The main photo featured a shot of the crowd. Much to Mister Boomer’s chagrin, every single person in the crowd had one arm fully extended, cell phone in hand, presumably video-ing the proceedings. Talk about surreal, man.
Naturally, this got Mister B thinking about his concert days. He didn’t attend too many concerts, but when he did, he went, like most boomers, for the live experience. In fact, the entire idea of filming or taping one second of any concert was strictly verboten. In the late sixties and early seventies, you could bring in cigarettes, bottles of liquor and an assortment of drugs at outdoor venues, but no video cameras or tape recorders were allowed. Ever. Obviously, some people got away with it from time to time, hence the underground market for bootleg cassettes. Though Mister B did not purchase or possess any of those, he had friends who did. There were bootlegs of Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Who and Led Zeppelin that he recalls, in particular.
The fact that the concert venue is continuing to evolve should not have come as any surprise to Mister Boomer. After all, when the Boomer Generation was coming of age in the 1950s, concerts then were pretty much the same as when their parents went to see Frank Sinatra in the ’40s. Most photos of concerts in the late forties and into the fifties show a seated audience that for the most part, responded with polite applause. Girls and boys were dressed in what was considered proper for an event: girls in dresses or skirts, boys in suits, or at least more like what was expected for church. However, certain stars such as Frank Sinatra (and later, Elvis) attracted screaming fans wherever they performed, but no one was trying to film them. Nonetheless, it showed an evolution was underway from the staid days of earlier concert attendance.
In the Boomer Era, bands toured to promote their record sales, which accounted for the vast majority of their income. Somewhere around the late 1980s, that began to change drastically, as the biggest names could gross more from their concert tours than they did selling records. The decline of vinyl records sales, then cassettes and finally CDs was predicated by the evolution of online, on-demand music. Purchases in the early days of online music facilitated single-song buying, which put less emphasis on owning an album. The concert was then a big-show experience that was beyond the single records.
In 1956, Elvis jokingly told the girls in the audience at a Florida concert that he would “see them backstage.” That caused a near riot. The Beatles have said that, in their 1965 Shea Stadium concert, they had to play completely without being able to hear their stage monitors because the screaming was so loud. The thing is, we went to concerts for the experience of being there live. Would we have wanted to revisit it via film, videotape or cassette? Mister Boomer feels that would not have been the case. Sure, many bands released live albums of legendary concerts, but the vast majority of boomers who bought those records did not attend the concerts. There are a few concert films from the era that have gone on to be classics, most notably The Last Waltz, the final concert tour of The Band in 1976, and of course, Woodstock, the film from 1970.
There was a certain prestige associated with some concerts if a boomer could say, “I was there.” Yet would boomers have posted numerous videos of bands in concert if the technology was there at the time? That’s hard to say. Mister B feels for the most part that someone filming an entire concert, blocking the view of people behind them, would have been met with a “down in front, man” comment at the very least. The concert was the experience, and that was not going to be reproduced or vicariously lived through filming.
In 2016, Justin Bieber (of all people!), actually stopped a concert to ask the audience to stop screaming. Broadway shows have been stopped when audience members have had cell phones ring. Is this a sign that there is a backlash beginning on this personal freedom to do whatever you want, especially with that portable device known as the cell phone? One can only hope.
Did you go to concerts for the live experience, boomers? Would you have wanted to have physical moving-picture evidence to show your friends that you were there?