• Is this the kind of thing you would expect to hear from a musician? “I got a job working with great tits. […] So I was counting great tits, measuring them, weighing them. I’ve worked with great tits and white-breasted thrashers.” In a way, yes. In a way, no. The speaker is Brian Briggs, the frontman for Stornoway, a Britain nu-folk band, and he is talking about birds of the non-human variety. He has a Ph.D. in zoology: “Ducks, actually.” One of his jobs in zoology was discovering “what [ducks] like and what they don’t like, in lakes and reservoirs in southwest London. And the answer is they like food and they don’t like waterskiing.”
• In 1890, while preparing to make his London debut at St. James’ Hall, pianist Ignacy Paderewski suffered from stage fright. Fortunately, when he sat down on the piano bench, the theater cat walked out and jumped on his lap. The audience laughed, and Mr. Paderewski relaxed. He played magnificently, and the cat kept on sitting on his lap. Of course, Mr. Paderewski became a world-famous musician, and he gave credit to the cat that had cured his stage fright.
• Hardcore group Black Flag sometimes played shows for very few people. In 1982, Black Flag played a show in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 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**k 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 often 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.
• Audience members will often applaud vigorously if they know that a big-name vocalist is singing, but if they do not know that a big-name vocalist is singing, they will often remain quiet. Albert Reiss was a competent tenor, but he lacked a big name although one evening he did not lack laryngitis. Enrico Caruso, who had perhaps the biggest name among tenors, offered to sing Arlecchino’s arietta for him while he mouthed the words, and Mr. Caruso also bet Mr. Reiss that no one in the audience would know that he was doing so. Mr. Caruso sang for Mr. Reiss and no one went wild, but the next time Mr. Caruso sang and the audience knew that he was singing, the audience went wild.
• During the 1992 Reading Festival, rain poured down and formed mud — lots of mud. A feisty audience began throwing gobs of mud at the performers on stage. Members of the grunge band Mudhoney put down their instruments and began throwing gobs of mud back at the audience. Mark Arm, vocalist for Mudhoney, taunted the British mud-throwers: “You guys can’t throw. You’re used to playing soccer and kicking balls with your feet.” At that moment, a big gob of mud splattered his face. Later, Mr. Arm joked, “That’ll learn me. Never taunt an armed audience.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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