David Bruce: Audiences Anecdotes

• Hardcore group Black Flag sometimes played shows for very few people. In 1982, Black Flag played a show in Oklahoma City, OK, for two, or at most five people, who sat far away, in the back. Henry Rollins, lead singer, was mad, and he complained about the lack of audience just before Black Flag went on stage to perform. Fortunately, Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski talked to him, and in Mr. Rollins’ words, “straightened me out on a few things.” Mr. Dukowski taught him “that even though there were only a few people there, it didn’t matter. They were there to see us, and that was good enough.” Mr. Rollins adds, “He said that you never pull a bullsh*t attitude on stage, and you always play your *ss off or don’t play at all.” Mr. Rollins remembers the show that Black Flag played that night. He says, “I played my *ss off that night.” Mr. Rollins sings, performs spoken-word concerts, and writes. He says, “I am a guy who used to work at an ice cream store in Washington, D.C. I am of average intelligence. There’s nothing special about me. If I can get this far, I would be very surprised if you couldn’t get at least twice as far. F*ck them. Keep your blood clean, your body lean, and your mind sharp.”

• People sometimes cough during a performance of an opera or other music, although that is rude. A friend of conductor William Christie once attended a chamber-music recital at Carnegie, and in front of him was a cougher. At an appropriate moment, he asked her, “Couldn’t you be a bit quieter?” She replied, “Young man, I’ve been coughing here for 40 years.” Mr. Christie has himself told a person behind him, “Have you noticed that my orchestra—and there are 60 of them—don’t cough? Why do you cough?” Of course, some coughs are OK. Mr. Christie says, “When I stop playing music and hear this chorus of coughing, you realize that people have been making an effort” not to cough during the music. And a singer once told interviewer Joshua Jampol “that during lieder concerts, the audience coughed when he finished a song because they had been so concentrated that they’d forgotten to breathe or swallow.” By the way, Mr. Christie’s friend Simon Rattle once became so annoyed by the ringing of cell phones during a concert that he stopped the concert and walked off the stage. Then he returned to the stage and told the audience, “If that happens again, I’ll do it again.”

• Jim Peterik wrote “Vehicle,” the biggest hit of the rock group Ides of March. Mr. Peterik still performs the song, sometimes in unlikely places. In San Francisco, he saw a musician busking for spare change on the street. He listened to a song, gave the busker some spare change, and then said that he played guitar. The busker handed over his guitar, and Mr. Peterik played and sang “Vehicle.” Apparently, the busker enjoyed the song, because he gave back to Mr. Peterik the spare change that Mr. Peterik had given to him. Of course, Mr. Peterik has been around for many years, and he has known legends. When he was 20 years old, he opened for the Allman Brothers. While the Allmans were on stage, Duane Allman asked the audience for some coke, so Mr. Peterik ran on stage with a can of Coca-Cola. He did not understand why the audience laughed.

• William H. Crane, an actor of the early 20thcentury, told a story about long-haired playwright Al Travers, who put on a play in a theater in Savannah, Georgia. Unfortunately, the play failed—miserably. Mr. Travers sat in the front row listening to hisses from the audience. A woman behind him leaned forward and said to him, “Pardon me, sir, but knowing you to be the author of this play, I took the liberty, at the beginning of the performance, of snipping off a lock of your lock. Allow me to return it.”

• On February 4, 1901, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, starring Ethel Barrymore, opened at the Garrick Theatre in New York. Ms. Barrymore was nervous before stepping on stage, then magic took over and the next morning she was a star. Soon, she saw her name in lights above the name of the play. She thanked producer Charles Frohman for the honor, but he said, “I didn’t do it — they did it,” referring to the members of the general public who had acclaimed her.

• American dance pioneer Ted Shawn once was forced to lecture on the history of dance from 8:30 to 11 p.m. because his company’s baggage car was detained in a Maine blizzard. After the baggage car finally arrived, he and his dancers were able to perform. The Portland newspaper later stated that none of the 3,000 people in the audience had left the theater — either during the lecture or during the performance — although the performance did not end until after 1 a.m.

• Felix Mendelssohn wrote interesting letters as well as interesting music. He once wrote about an audience filled with ladies wearing brightly colored hats. While he played during the concert, he watched the audience and saw that the hat-wearing ladies were bobbing their heads in time with the music so that the scene looked like wind blowing over a bed of tulips.

• Bill Maher remembers that after he had appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carsonthe very first time, he appeared at a gig in the South. He told a joke that bombed, then said, “Johnny Carson loved that joke last night.” A deep Southern voice replied, “Well, Johnny ain’t here tonight.”

• Audiences are important. After Oscar Wilde had written The Importance of Being Earnestand before it had premiered, someone said to him, “Oscar, I hope the show is a success.” Mr. Wilde replied, “The show is already a success. I hope the audience is.”

• When Ida Rubinstein performed, she would say words on stage — words such as “Où suis-je?” (“Where am I?”) Of course, sometimes someone in the audience would answer, “À l’Opéra de Paris!

• “The audience is the best judge of anything. They cannot be lied to. Truth brings them closer. A moment that lags —they’e gonna cough.” — Barbra Streisand

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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