Thursday, April 10, 2014

Epiphany #25: Who Will Say When It's Time To Go?

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.


Billy said...

Interesting stuff crammed into this post. You won't be surprised, Bob, that the biggest factor here for me is the NINETY-FIVE DOLLARS part.

Should he hang it up? Worth consideration. But if you're a "fan" or a non-fan who has a spare $110 (I'm adding the TicketBastard fee), then you oughtta a little of what to expect, or shame on you.

As I learned with Hall & Oates, the reason they couldn't fill up half of Chattanooga's modest venue is because Hall can't hit half the notes in half the songs that made them famous in the first place.

But shame on me for buying the tix. No shame on them. They are offering a service at a set price, and I bought it. They didn't rob me. They just let me down.

I think the same with BB. Anyone with expectations high enough that they'll boo the man shoulda done more homework. Shame on them.


Bob said...

Perhaps, but what kind of capitalistic world are we in if the message is: Hey, if you go, it's going to kind so suck? When did Bb King become Applebee's?

Robert Berman said...

So many factors play are at work here. Artists may have a desire to keep playing beyond when they're providing the sort of quality product on which they built their names. Their handlers aren't paid to curate the artist's reputation for posterity, but to monetize it today. Fans want to be able to say they saw the artist, and hope for some semblance of the artist's craft even when it's no longer available. I love the line in "A Mighty Wind" where the aging folk singer laments that his audience has come to see a man that no longer exists.