|David Narzico, by an amateur photographer|
I'm reading Kristin Hersh’s memoir Rat Girl, which is just the book to take you back to 1985 in Rhode Island and Boston, inside the head of a funny, sassy, precocious teenager diagnosed as bipolar and writing some of that decade’s most thrilling, frightening music. It’s also prompted me to unearth the photograph above, my one and only experience of trying to take ‘proper’ pictures at a concert.
It shows Throwing Muses drummer David Narzico at the Town & Country Club in March 1991, the month that Hersh’s band released their stunning album The Real Ramona. My friend and chronically untidy house-mate Tim Bradford was working for Amateur Photographer magazine at the time, and was always bringing home new cameras to try out and abuse. We took along one each, and smuggled them in to the venue, then edged our way to the front. The cameras must have looked fancy, because people kept making space for us, like they thought we were real photographers. That the above picture was my best shot testifies to the fact I didn’t go on to make a career out of it (nor anything else, for that matter).
I remember that it was a superb concert, and that we were in a happy, drinking mood that continued all the way back home into a night of whisky and worldly analysis, but what seems remarkable in hindsight is the respect accorded to people taking photographs, albeit illegally. Nowadays, at least half of the audience are holding up their iPhones and other assorted devices to take footage and photos. It’s almost as annoying as people holding up cigarette lighters and swaying sideways to the music. In fact it’s more annoying. At least the swaying lighter fans are focusing on the music, not just an instant image to transmit to their mates with the caption, “Can U believe it, I’m at a concert!!!!!”
In small venues, this is not just highly irritating to miserable gits like me, but distracting and disrespectful to the performers as well. Earlier this year, I was at a concert by the earthy folk-classical quartet Horse Feathers in the downstairs room at the Black Cat, an ‘intimate’ venue with a limit of 200. It was sold out, and space was tight. Three songs in, two half-cut, 20-something boors blustered in from the bar, and one stood directly in front of me, so close that I could have blown the dandruff off his scalp. They clinked glasses, then my new friend took out his phone to take the obligatory shots of the band whose music he hadn’t even started to take in.
That would have been just about tolerable if his device had then stayed in his pocket, but every few minutes he’d fish it back out, take more pictures, check his messages, and send a text. As he’d perched himself almost on my toes, I finally whispered, “Do you think you could get through one song without taking that fucking thing out your pocket?” He turned and looked at me, genuinely baffled. It doesn’t register with a certain generation that it’s actually quite normal to stand still and listen to a performance for an hour without the need to tell your fascinated buddies what you’re up to right at this very second. “Standing on some washed-out indie-fart’s toes taking pics of band, now heez swearing @ me LOL!!!!!!”
He didn’t respond verbally (a sure symptom of terminal stupidity), but he did move, and spent the next ten minutes with his mate pointing at me, the dinosaur in the room who thinks that cell phones should stay in pockets until there’s a genuine emergency. As in, “Ambulance urgently needed at Black Cat night club, youth unable to breath due to cell phone rammed down his throat.” Though if it was my club I’d have him propped up on stage as a warning, with a sign saying, Leave photography to the pros. If digital cameras and the ubiquitous amateur haven’t already killed them off.