Ear today, gone tomorrow

I saw a living legend at a local club recently. I donít go to nightclubs very often, anymore. What was fun at 21 is now a chore. I donít know what to wear. I worry about parking. Iím not going to try and meet a girl. I donít need to relax from my stressful day job. I barely drink. On top of that, the first show starts about the same time that I usually go to bed.

But this guy is a living legend; he made some of my favorite recordings of all time. Heís a musicianís musician, he plays, performs, writes and produces music. Ten, 20 years ago, the only place you could see this guy was in a stadium or an arena. To see him in a nightclub that seats 300 hundred people is a rare treat. And tickets were half what youíd pay for a Hannah Montana concert. This would be something Iíd be talking about for a long time.

And sure enough, it was. The opening act was talented and tight, and as the roadies moved their equipment off the stage, the waiters moved to get everyoneís orders before the real show started. The place was crammed, six people sitting at tiny tables that barely had room for two glasses.



The Living Legend appeared, the crowd went crazy. Groupies swarmed forward. From the first note it was obvious the Living Legend was under the impression that he was in the Superdome, not a small nightclub.

The music you like, soft or loud, makes you feel as if someone else understands you perfectly. Even if itís sad, it can make you feel better, alter your mood. I always felt better after a big dose of the Living Legendís music. What was coming from the stage was the exact opposite of music. If this was music, a jet engine could go platinum and sell out Madison Square Garden ten nights in a row.

It has to be the seat, I thought. I must be in a bad spot. No person in their right mind could possibly think this was the way this was supposed to sound. I stood beside the stage. Maybe the band was hearing something different than I was. No, it was just as loud and garbled and unpleasant as it was at my seat.

I went to the back of the club and stood next to the soundman behind his gigantic mixing board. It was worse. Like a cross between an AM station in a thunderstorm and a NASCAR race. Iíd have said something, but there is no way he could have heard me over the tuneless din. Sometimes Iíd recognize the snippet of a song, as if somewhere else someone was trying to drown out this racket by playing a recording of the Living Legend as loud as they could from another floor.

I left after the second blast. I have been to a lot of concerts in my life. I saw the Beatles at Hollywood Bowl, I saw the Rolling Stones in Ď72, because everyone knew it would be the last time they would ever go on tour. The way they lived, how many of them could possibly be alive by 1973? I worked in nightclubs and radio. Opera, country, classical, folk, pop, rock, slack-key Hawaiian, fado, show tunes Ė Iím a fan of it all. But if the Living Legend had made recordings that sounded like this, he would not be a Living Legend. How could he not hear what a head-banging mess this was? What about the other musicians on stage? Couldnít they tell the difference? The soundman couldnít tell that this was distorted past all recognition?

Iíve been to concerts before where the bass player was too loud, or voices were lost in the mix, but nothing as painful as this. The saddest part of the whole evening is that now I can no longer listen to the Living Legendís music Ė because I wonder who really made it. Certainly not the guy I saw on stage that night.

Jim Mullen is the author of ďIt Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple LifeĒ and ďBabyís First Tattoo.Ē You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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