Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy at One Longfellow Sq: Lot’s of talent, lots of cell phones

I just ran this as a Missed Connections ad, though I am sure it will be flagged and removed shortly.

Language Warning: In the immortal words of my father, I am yelling and swearing so much because I love you.

When Will Oldham asked for requests from the audience at the amazing Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy show at One Longfellow Square last night, one guy shouted his from the balcony. His request was for those responsible for the many glows of light below to shut off their cell phones.

I would like to thank that guy.

Balcony guy was not the first to make the aforementioned ask, as a representative of the board of the One Longfellow Square made this same request of the crowd on two separate occasions before the show even started. He cited a letter or article that ran in the Press Herald earlier this year, which addressed the scourge of folks using their big, distracting space phones to take pictures or record video at these otherwise intimate events. He had found this report to be mortifying and so he kindly made his requests.

I would like to thank that guy for doing his part as well.

I sat three rows back from the stage, front and center. I have been waiting for this show since I was a teenager, and I was so close to Oldham that probably could have stood up and touched the guitar or the mic stand if I wanted to. I was very nearly transfixed—Oldham was all charisma and quirky story-telling and humor and beautiful performance—but every song would be inevitably be punctuated by the glow of one or two phones being poised to capture a picture, and this ate up my periphery and capacity for full appreciation.

The couple in the center of the front row—this guy who kept sort of awkwardly forcing affectionate advances on a woman who appeared to be his lady and said lady, who seemed deflect the advances in an annoyed fashion—took at least 20 pictures throughout one song. The people immediately next to me took a picture with a flash, and a smattering of others did so without a flash but lit up the venue all the same. After the gentlemen above made his “Come on guys, do I really need to ask a bunch of grownups to put their fucking cell phones away?” request, the folks behind me, who had tried to pretend as if they weren’t taking pictures every time I turned around, attempted to hide the glow of their perpetually illuminated phone screen rather than just simply shutting it off and watching the show exclusively with their fucking original set of pre-Apple eyes.

There are places where this sort of capture isn’t terribly distracting and out of place of course.  I went to see the Flaming Lips at the State Theater a while back, where I randomly got punched in the face and everyone was on drugs and there were lights everywhere. A wave of screens capturing that moment wasn’t a shitty or out-of-place thing. Shows of that scope, complexity, and illumination are fair game for the whole home-cooked paparazzi thing. When you are sitting at a once in forever event in a small room, you are somewhere in a tiny crowd and you are faced with a charisma-packed performer presenting just his guitar, songs and stories, that voice inside your head that is telling you that you are actually being a jerk off for making an exception for just this one (20) picture(s) is actually worth listening to.

I presume the final destination for all of these “elusive” captures is one form of social media or another, as it is not like they are destined for award show submissions or album storage. Dankly lit photos from the perspective of the audience don’t have much of a use beyond serving as Internet attention bait. That attention, be it in the form of a like or a Retweet, or a reblog, or whatever you are in the market for will light up all of the needy parts of your brain just long enough to keep the bubble that separates you from your capacity for maintaining a reasonable dose of self-awareness will live for another day because yay, your friends on the Internet think that you do neat shit. To the rest of us, though, you are just another dick who couldn’t help but to get your flashing light all up in our shit.

But that digital validation sure does feel good.

I sort of get it as I have I been a dick at shows myself. I have got about a decade of drinking until I can hardly stand and going to shows under my belt. It isn’t like I haven’t been called out on being an asshole, as I have. In those situations I usually get defensive and deal with the defensiveness by way of deflection. I once asked a guy who was texting throughout a movie to stop and he asked me in an impressively defensive tone, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”, his deflection serving to suggest that I was a crazy person for having the expectation that he should know better. It I were the person taking the picture (20 pictures) at any given time and I were to read this, I would probably think, “Seriously? What the fuck is your problem, man? DON’T YOU KNOW HOW TO HAVE FUN?” And I would choose to believe that the kind of person who brings this sort of thing up must not have an appreciation for the occasional necessary, leisurely circumvention of a rule or two.

Defensive me would be wrong, though. I have a great appreciation for many folks known for their interesting and creative means of descent. When I think of my heroes who exemplify that sort of thing, I can’t picture them interrupting a show to take a few dozen pictures while Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy plays a moving rendition of I See a Darkness. I don’t think Burroughs would have given that much of a shit about disrupting an occasion for the sake of framing the perfect shot for Instagram, and I can’t see someone like Angela Davis being in that much need of validation from a fresh wave of Facebook likes. Johnny Cash would not pull this shit at a Carter Family show. Can you imagine Oldham himself fucking up the magic of a small venue Mekons show to capture just the right Twitpic? No, what you are doing is silly and self-serving. If you want the attention—you are not alone as we all traffic in neediness and validation these days—maybe next time just watch the fucking show, think about it a little, and put your thoughts into words that you can share with the people you want so desperately to tell you that you are awesome.

And leave the rest of us the fuck alone.

Photo Credit: I know this will sound insane, but I took this picture before the aforementioned multiple so-common-sense-it-is-not-even-funny requests to turn off all cell phones were made of the crowd.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.