A couple of items caught my attention over the past several weeks in that sometimes chippy arena known as Facebook. It made me think about the two worlds of audio and visual. It made me think about the person living in the moment and the person dedicated to documenting that moment. It made me think about the unquestioned value people place on the flat screen versus the values of humanity itself. It made me think about people’s addiction to television and the institutionalized, systematic dumbing down of America. It also made me think of the last bastion of cool being under siege by the video geek.
A few weeks ago, I posted a link to the BLUES JUNCTION website in one of those Facebook “blues groups”. I got an instant message from the administrator of the group. He wrote, “This group is for clips.” I had no idea what he was talking about and wrote him back asking for some kind of clarification of his comment. He wrote back, “This group, that I started is for clips.” I had to plead ignorance. This is something I should be good at by now. I kept telling him I didn’t know what he was talking about and he kept repeating himself using the same verbiage. Then I asked him, “Are you referring to video clips?” His answer was a simple, “Yes.” I explained to him that I am a writer and editor and that I ‘publish’ a monthly feature driven online magazine that, for the most part, discusses blues music. He wrote back, “No clips?” I tried to explain that maybe some of the people in his group would like to take a break from watching, ‘clips’ once in a while and read something. He wrote back, “What do you want? What are you selling?” I wrote back that maybe there are people out there who would like to read for the sake of reading. They might like to read for the sheer joy this experience can bring a person. He wrote back, “Clips only!” and removed me from his group.
I thought to myself, “Is a person’s lack of communication skills in direct proportion to how important ‘clips’ are to their universe?” It also got me to thinking about our myopic world in general that places such a high value on ‘clips’.
For over thirty years now, every single child has been filmed at every stage of their lives. Dads with hand held camcorders literally shot an entire generation of people doing everything that a kid does. Every Little League game, every soccer match and every dance recital has been filmed. I have a nephew who, when he was a child, would sit in front of the television in his living room and watch himself for hours. He called the experience Tony (his first name) T.V. No one ever took the time and trouble to wonder if this is a good thing. America is now way down the list of civilized nations when it comes to math, science and, of course, reading proficiency. The only category in which we lead the world is self esteem. Marvelous...we have a bunch of dip shits running around who feel good about themselves.
It isn’t surprising that some of these individuals have grown up and turned their cameras on themselves, and us for that matter. There was a time when Jacqueline Onassis was generally regarded as the most photographed woman on the planet. If she were still alive she would rank way down the list, as I have dozens of female “Facebook friends” who take more pictures of themselves in a day then Jackie had taken of her in a week. Every aspect of their daily lives has to be photographed and documented for the world on Facebook. “Look... here is a picture of what I am having for lunch.” It seems like the narcissist has become the norm. The kid who was really cute, and has hours of video documentation to prove it, is grown up now and taking pictures of himself. This isn’t very cute and quite frankly it’s a little unsettling.
Is there a place where we can go, besides the bathroom to get away from these self absorbed freaks? The answer of course is NO. Now the audio/visual guy is foisting himself into my holy sanctuary which, up until the YouTube phenomenon, was primarily a nerd free zone, the blues club. Our music is not, for the most part, made in concert halls and basketball arenas. It is made in bars. It is music that goes very nicely with drinking and dancing. It is a good fit and has been for decades.
I would think that the YouTube videos floating around out there where one can see the disturbing images of me dancing should be enough to discourage this phenomenon all on its own. “Hey check it out, that big old, white dude dancing like an idiot. He is calling other people nerds. Now that is funny.”
This brings us to the next Facebook discussion, which took place on a variety of walls after the historic return to the concert stage of Lynwood Slim at the Tiki Bar on June 24th. One self appointed documentarian aka ‘dude with a video camera’ ran rough shod over the other patrons as he was filming his ‘clips’. Now let me be clear. One man’s rude, self serving and boorish behavior should not come to symbolize all humans with a video camera, but his public defense of his behavior speaks volumes to the heretofore unquestioned sense of entitlement videographers often have as it relates to the world around them. When that world collides in the small and hopefully crowded confines of a blues bar conflicts can occur.
The individual’s fanaticism in capturing this historical performance upset a lot of folks, as I heard from several patrons before, during and after the show as to the obtrusiveness of his style. Much of the concerns stemmed from the mere fact that this video dude is a strapping 6’5” lad who is seemingly unaware that standing directly at the lip of the stage can diminish some of the concert experience for other patrons.
I think James Harman put it best in his song, Don’t Spoil My View.
Once these concerns were expressed on Facebook the videographer launched into a 1072 word defense of his behavior. His zeal for shooting clips and his response to others inspired me to examine this phenomenon and try to find some common ground between the service that these videographers provide to future generations and the disservice they provide to those living in the moment. I should in all fairness point out that he said he was not aware of the problem and he eventually apologized for his behavior.
I think much of the lust for video stems from my generation’s examination of blues through the prism of rock and roll. Blues is not necessarily a visual medium. Rock and roll always has been. From Elvis Presley and Little Richard all the way through Alice Cooper and David Bowie, the rock and roll circus has begged you to look at them. Then along comes MTV and the rest, as they say, is history. Did video really kill the radio star? Was rock music a more vibrant and creative form of entertainment before video became so ubiquitous? I don’t know, but these might be interesting questions to consider.
It has become what things look like, and not what they sound like, that seems to carry the most value in our world. This is most decidedly the case when viewing a work of art hanging on a gallery wall. I just don’t believe this should apply as much to music to the extent that it does.
The world of blues also differs from the world of rock and roll in that it is not as organized and institutionalized, thank goodness. Even in festival settings there often are no photo pits for the credentialed professional. These professionals are forced to do their job surrounded by the drinkers and dancers that they loathe, but who keep the whole industry afloat. They are the ones footing the bill and should be treated with the same courtesy that should be afforded anyone, anytime and anyplace.
I guess the short answer could be, “You are not Martin Scorsesee and this is not the Last Waltz. Take your video camera and shove it up your ass.” Short answers like that tend to cause problems in crowded nightclubs and festivals, but I am sure that this thought has occurred to many blues music fans that are trod upon by these self appointed documentarians.
I would also like to point out that I have observed some professionals shooting video who were cognizant that their presence can be a potential distraction to others around them. I watched just such a professional a few weeks ago in a very small and packed bar as he shot video of the Hollywood Blue Flames. He set his camera on a tri-pod in the back of the room and himself behind his equipment. He couldn’t have been less obtrusive.
The videographer who didn’t exhibit the same esprit de corps at the Tiki Bar also mentioned in his defense that he was asked to shoot the event. To me this point is completely irrelevant. He went on to say he will shoot video until the day he dies and that this deal was made at the crossroads a long time ago. He also said even if he wasn’t shooting he would stand in the front and in everyone’s way anyhow. Yikes.... he thinks he is doing a service to preserve the historical nature of the afternoon’s event and went on to point out that there is very little footage of Little Walter for instance. Fair enough. I think this point is not without merit. I would however ask the question, “Does the lack of clips of Little Walter in any way diminish his legacy?’ I don’t think it does and, in many ways, it might even add a dimension to that legacy, as we are now, heaven forbid forced to LISTEN to his music. He is not just another guy with a bunch of YouTube videos that we can watch playing the harmonica.
I feel for the professional videographer and photographer out there today. Their art has been marginalized through the availability and accessibility of digital camera equipment. The true artist is competing with everyone with a camera and that is everyone, as everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times. It is called a cell phone and there is a huge difference between this and the elaborate rigs professional photographers use. The training, the discipline and the artistry of the photographer and videographer is being devalued by the sheer amount of photos and videos in the marketplace. The photographer and videographer probably feel a little under siege. It is probably fair to surmise that they have to work that much harder to separate themselves from the digital dilettantes. This is how some of these conflicts arise. It however should be pointed out that it is the so called professional photographers and videographers that can be the most obtrusive. Everyone who is reading this knows exactly who I am talking about.
I am very proud of the work that the photographers do here at BLUES JUNCTION. Watching both Alex Gardner and Chris Corbett at the Tiki Bar the other afternoon was like watching a ballet, as their primary concern was the people around them. They bob and weave across the dance floor bending at the waist as they cross the path of others and look over both shoulders before they plant their feet and take a picture. I have observed both these men in action for many years, long before I asked them if they would like to participate in our little corner of the cyber world. I have also observed the same professional courtesy from Billy Wayne Turner and Mike Lovato as well, whose photos you have enjoyed in this ezine from time to time. When you see the fine photography here at BLUES JUNCTION please remember no blues fans were harmed in the making of this ezine.
As far as clips are concerned, if this, albeit low form of art, gives someone pleasure that is fine by me. I however think that blues music is, for the most part, not something you see. It is something you experience. It is something you hear, feel and respond to in a very personal and primal way. It simply, for me, is an aural and not a visual medium. That’s me and I can’t project my values onto others. I appreciate my views are those that are not universally held. I just ask if you are that dude or dudette with a camera, don’t foist your values on the rest of us either and assume your values are universally held by others. They are not.
To me what is sanctimonious is the music that is being heard in that moment, not a replica of that music on a clip being viewed on someone’s computer at a later date. If nothing else, common courtesy should carry the day. Your camera does not imbibe you with any more importance than anyone else in the room. Try and remember that or more likely try and get that concept through your head for the first time. I suspect this editorial won’t have much impact on the videographers out there as they probably just scanned the page wondering what all the words are about and moved on when they didn’t see any ‘clips’.
At least that’s what I think. I would love to hear from our readers on this topic because unlike the self appointed documentarian, I fully appreciate that there are two sides to every story. As you know by now BLUES JUNCTION is after all a junction of ideas and a crossroads of thought.
- David Mac