“Whoo-hoooooo!” the guy next to me shouted.
He was around 5'8", short blond hair,
dressed in an ordinary, straight sort of way -- reliable, noncommital oxford and jeans. We were
standing at the very back of a David Byrne concert – I was standing in the back because I’d not
been feeling well (usually I’m up front); he was in back because, well, I don’t know. I don’t
really know why people spend thirty, forty dollars to go to a rock concert and then stand all the
way in the back where the energy is so low. It doesn’t make sense to me.
I don’t know why he shouted “Whoo-hoo” either.
The way the guy had acted earlier, he
actually seemed not to know who David Byrne was. He didn’t recognize even the popular
Talking Heads songs in the set. At the very end, I noticed that this guy and his friends shouted
the loudest when one of the people playing violin (David Byrne had a string quartet on stage with
his band - nice.) was introduced. So they probably were on the guest list, and just wanted to see
their buddy. I guess.
That explains why they were standing at
the back, and talking throughout most of the
show. But why the loud, obnoxious “whoo-hooo!”
I should say: I’m not a whoo-hooer, usually.
Once or twice per show, maybe -- often at
the end, or after an incredibly good guitar solo. But definitely not while the artist is trying to talk
in between songs, and definitely not after a quiet song that, the singer says, was recorded as a
duet with someone who has since passed away. You know? Maybe I’m too aware of the
moment the artist is trying to create, or just too shy. I don’t shout song names, either, usually.
For whatever reason, it takes a lot of excitement to cross my personal whoo-hoo threshold.
Question: is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Here’s evidence that it’s a good thing.
I’ve noticed at rock concerts that it takes only one
or two obnoxious assholes to ruin the vibe for hundreds of other people. If you’re in a small
venue, every shout-out – a request for an old, familiar song, which we all know will be played,
but probably not until the end; or a shout of the artist’s name – can become the center of
attention. That’s one of the great things about smaller venues; the artist and the audience can
interact. They might respond to something you say. There’s a connection that’s built. And yet if
someone is shouting something stupid, or obnoxious, or ill-timed – “whoo-hoo” in the middle of
a quiet track – it can change the feel of a show in an instant.
So, should the whoo-hoo-ers repress themselves?
Rock shows are, often, all about
expression and letting loose, right? So surely they shouldn’t repress. They should let it all hang
out! Right? That’s the evidence that my bashfulness is not a Good Thing. It gets in the way –
it’s the same shyness that keeps people from dancing the way they should, from getting the
catharsis that rock concerts are for, and – maybe it’s not too much to say – keeps us from
pursuing our dreams without remorse or regret. The quieter we are, the meeker; and the meek
only inherit the earth after the adventurous have enjoyed and used it up.
Very well; seize the day; shout whoo-hoo.
But, isn’t that being incredibly selfish? If
their ‘doing their own thing,’ to use the hippie term, interferes with other people’s enjoyment of
the show, isn’t their indulgence obnoxious, in that it comes at other people’s expense?
I’m reminded of a story Robert Quine tells
of the Velvet Underground playing in San
Francisco. I never much understood who went to Velvets shows, or Stooges shows for that
matter, and apparently the dissonance was not only in my imagination. Hippies showed up.
And, notwithstanding the Velvets’ alienation and complexity, they wanted to “do their thing” and
play along. Ugh!
Maybe the answer is a set of unwritten standards
or conventions that the community of
concertgoers should respect. This basically exists already. Everyone knows that while pushing
and shoving is ok at an Agnostic Front show, it’s not ok at Joni Mitchell. Obviously the rules
are different at a rock show from what they are at a chamber music recital, just as they are
different at a punk show from what they are at a quieter, acoustic pop concert. No absolutes.
But let’s not think that ‘rules’ are the
enemy of rock & roll. At most punk shows, to
choose an example at the anarchist end of the spectrum, it’s rude to tell people to shut up, or not
to dance. It’s rude to jump onstage if the band really doesn’t want you to. Usually, it’s rude to
be racist, or to be so drunk that you can’t stand up straight in the pit and you’re being an asshole
to everyone around you. Punks might not want to call these ‘rules,’ but they’ll use their own
enforcement mechanism – a punch in the face – to express their disapproval.
What’s necessary, then, is for people to
have a sense of context. To be a little tentative
before they start shouting (or start telling other people not to shout – as I’ve also seen, and as is
also quite obnoxious). You know – look around, get a sense of the environment. Recognize that
the world goes on outside of you. But this is very difficult for many people to do. Many people,
it seems to me, are utterly oblivious to the fact that different communities have different codes of
behavior, and that you may be quite rude by not respecting them. If you try to crowd-surf at a
pop concert where people are trying to mellow out and enjoy the good music, you’re an asshole.
On the other hand, this still doesn’t solve
the fundamental question of how best to
balance self-expression and respect for community. After all, I wonder if I, and many other
people, are too worried about these supposed codes of behavior. Quickly, respect for a
community can turn into neurotic worrying, self-questioning, and squelching our desire to
express ourselves. Particularly if we happen not to fit the mold of what that community expects.
And it’s not something that can just be reduced to “the bourgeoisie is conformist, and we are not”
– it exists in alternative cultures as well. If we’re so worried about being cool that we don’t say
or do anything for fear of seeming out of place, are we really cool – or are we really cowards? If
we’re at some indie rock show but we really want to dance – why not dance, for God’s sake?
Nor can we just say ‘context,’ because there
are some community rules which, maybe, we
don’t want to respect. If at some polite political panel someone says something so outrageously
offensive that it should be tolerated in polite conversation, is it right to follow the heart and yell
at the racist asshole, or squelch that desire in the name of the conventions of the gathering?
Well, these are close cases. But let’s
go back to the “whoo-hoo” at David Byrne, because
I think there is a possible resolution to the problem there.
What bothered me so much about this particular
‘whoo-hoo’ was more than its
obnoxiousness, more than its moronic, frat-boy quality in the context of a just-a-little-higher-
caliber show. What bothered me most was its insincerity. This guy clearly had no interest in the
music on stage – he wasn’t dancing, he was talking to his friends, he didn’t even know who he
was seeing (before I realized he was on the guest list, I was baffled as to why he would spend $30
to chat with his friends). And yet he whoo-hooed, at what turned out to be a random and
somewhat stupid time. Probably not a coincidence – if he had been paying attention, he
wouldn’t have had to worry so much about context and appropriateness, because his joy would
naturally spring forth at times that weren’t so obviously dumb. I doubt I was the only one
Moreover, standing next to him, I was particularly
annoyed for a specific reason: his
whoo-hoo was not the same as the whoo-hoo of a real fan. A fan’s whoo-hoo is a contribution –
it’s part of the crowd’s building energy, it expresses a real emotion and appreciation for the
music, it adds to the excitement in the room. Because it is sincere, it is likely (though not
certain) to come at a good time, when other people are also, probably, feeling the same way; it
builds solidarity, community, exhilaration. It’s an integral part of the show.
But this guy’s whoo-hoo wasn’t that way
at all. It was sort of an expression, of
something, but really it was mostly an expression of saying ‘hoo-fuckin-ray.’ Or to give the
benefit of the doubt, it was an expression of ‘I’m gonna try to get into this... okay, okay... here we
go.’ Even in the latter case, it’s totally egocentric. It’s a selfish statement, out of tune with
community and just about indulging me, me, me.
A parallel. I remember the first time
I learned the lesson that alternative cultures, in
rejecting the hypocritical rules of the mainstream, aren’t rejecting all rules and courtesy
altogether. I was a freshman in college, fresh out of high school, freed from its stifling
conformity and phony codes of conduct. Fuck the rules! One day, I was riding on the subway
with some friends, late at night. We were going out to some club or other, we were cool. I was
eating a snack on the way downtown, and I got some food on my hands – something like yogurt
or cream cheese, or something like that. So I wiped my hands off on the pole in the subway –
you know, fuck the rules. One of my friends, cooler than I, said “Man, what are you doing?” I
was surprised at his puritanism. “What?” I answered, trying to seem cool and insouciant.
“Someone has to put their hands on that, man,” he said.
I was at a loss for what to say. I
should care about that? But I’m cool – fuck the rules! I
don’t care about that!
I realized on thinking about it that I had
made a mistake. I thought that those of us who
were rebelling against our society’s rules were rebelling against the idea of all rules at all. Not
so! We were only rejecting the idiocy and authoritarian mediocrity of a particular set of rules.
Again, even in an anarchist world, there are customs and standards for behavior. An anarchist
won’t want the state to enforce them, but the standards, where they affect other people, still exist.
So this whoo-hoo guy in the show – he didn’t
care at all about his context. He probably
didn’t understand even that contexts exist; that some shows, in the middle of the quiet songs,
maybe you should shut the hell up. This sort of jock-football-player yelping after every song – it
cheapens the show, it cheapens human expression. It’s a selfish ‘yawp’ that, while joyful, is just
annoying if it’s not a sincere contribution to what everyone is doing. It’s a kind of ‘fuck the
rules!’ shout, and most of us at the show, I think, don’t appreciate it.
Should these people repress themselves?
I don’t know. I certainly didn’t tell the guy
next to me to shut up – it’s a free country, if he wants to be an asshole I’m not going to stop him.
Maybe I was just being a coward myself. But even now, in the safety of my apartment, I think
the ‘harm’ the rest of us suffered due to his obnoxiousness was trivial, and not enough to justify
spreading bad karma around in a concert. Really, telling someone ‘shut up’ is much more
destructive to a concert’s positive energy than an extra whoo-hoo here or there. And certainly the
‘offense’ is nowhere near enough to use violence, in my code of behavior.
I’m not even sure that I would want people
to bottle up their emotions just so that other
people shouldn’t be annoyed. I wish that respect and community was just part of who they were,
and didn’t have to be added on as a repressive outer layer atop what they’d prefer to be doing.
Context becomes intuitive with mindfulness. Sometimes, shows really are about letting it all
hang out. Other times, they’re not. And – this is probably my most audacious hope of all -- I
think it’s possible to feel the difference just by paying attention. Let go of your inhibitions and
suppositions, but also move your id’s desires away from the center of your world. Let go of that
part of yourself, that acquistive, self-centered part, along with all the rest. Open yourself to the
feeling in the crowd. And the respect and love that you share with the people around you will be
as natural as the groove itself.
November 4, 2001
Back to Dabbler Index. Back to Metatronics homepage.Email feedback.