There's a bit of a music controversy going on in Internetville. It's involves the booing of B.B. King. Seems some insensitives at a St. Louis show took to shouting and booing Mr. King part way into a show to the extent that Mr. King could not understand what they were saying and stopped the music altogether.
It would appear that what they were saying was, however impolitely, "Play some songs!" Music veterans and aficionados everywhere have, of course, risen to King's defense, basically promoting two schools of thought:
SCHOOL #1: He's B.B. King. He's a legend. You don't boo him.
SCHOOL #2: You should have known what you were getting into. This is what a B.B. King show is like.
And by "this," we mean, a show where B.B. plays a song, tells a ton of stories, plays another song, tells more stories and, in this case, leads the audience in a 15-minute singalong of "You Are My Sunshine." The show in question seems to have been a particularly weak version of an ongoing pattern.
As you might guess from my tone so far, I am in neither of these two camps. While I am not advocating the booing of a wonderful blues gentleman, I am wondering what is the recourse for an audience that has paid $95 for a music performance and not gotten much in the way of music? I am wondering, why doesn't someone let Mr. King know that, as The Band once sang, it is time for him to hang up his rock 'n' roll shoes? I am wondering, what is the obligation of a performer to his or her audience?
If you go to see Neil Young, is it fair to be disappointed that he's decided to play an entire record that you've never heard before? Yes, disappointed. But have you gotten your money's worth? Yes. If you go to see a post-"Winning!" Charlie Sheen do a combative, rambling, self-serving monologue tour, should you be surprised that you get just that? Probably not. If you go to see a blues legend perform, is it fair to assume that he will perform the blues?
I guess that's where it gets sticky. How many blues? How many songs? Is a singalong a fun part of a show, but can it go on too long?
Mr. King is 88. He is a national musical treasure. But does that mean that he can do no wrong? Perhaps more exactly, does that mean that his handlers can do no wrong? I'm not sure. But I'm not quite willing to let the B.B. King corporation off the hook for this one.
I hope that I wouldn't boo in that situation. But I also hope that future audience members at a B.B. King show could be made aware of what they were going to see, that a night with Mr. King would be billed as a a few songs, good stories, audience participation, and a stellar band.
And, I guess, most of all, I wish that some music legends would grant themselves the right to step away from the road and to live last years in a different way. Even knowing that it is hard for a B.B. King to stop what he has been doing for almost his entire life, I'd want him to realize that there is a time for all of us to go, to stop, to retire, to end, and that there is nothing wrong with that. I'd hope that someone close would help him to see that so that the audience would not feel compelled to.