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October 1989 - Nightflying Article - The Audience
by Lee Tomboulian

How do you see the audience?

Some performers see the audience as a many-headed monster, needing to be pummeled relentlessly with volume or gymnastics. Some see the audience as material for seduction, physical or otherwise. Some see the audience as needing a soothing warm bath of sound (new age approach). Some feel the need to educate and enlighten. Some mix these up deftly. Some don't.

Some try to respond to the audience by becoming a jukebox: Yell at us what to play and we'll play it. The trouble with that approach, it seems to me, is that people get obsessed with pushing the buttons, so to speak, and forget tot listen to what's playing.

Some try to go to the other extreme: We're artists and we don't have to respond to you unwashed. Unfortunately, the unwashed don't have to listen. The whole idea is predicated on the artists having a day-job, or if it isn't, then the artists will soon have to get one. Some jazzers can be accused of that, but I heard a curious rock'n'roll version from Peter Read...

It was late on a Friday night at one of Little Rock's three late-night private clubs. There were about 20 drunken foks left, including the help. An above-average metal band, bedecked in spandex, closed their show a little early so that the end of the last encore would correspond with quitting time.They finished this "last" tune and waited for the delirious cries of "Encore!" Nobody clapped. The lead singer asked, "You wannan encore?" No response. "Well, f*** you, we're gonna do one anyway." After that number, he asked, "You wanna nother encore?" And not waiting for an answer, they played another tune!

Some say audiences like to be abused or insulted. The Arkansas band Zorro and the Blue Footballs used to pack houses with masochistic women, their dates,and other targets of abuse ("Sing Like a Negro"). Frank Zappa has led the way in the rock world for twenty-five golden years from "Plastic People (You're Such a Drag)" to "Maybe You Should Stay with Your Mama".

This Don Rickles-esque approach goes back as far as ancient Greece, where playwrights composed elaborate insults for the amusement of the crowds (wit as educated insolence). I suppose it's the thought, "They can't be talking about me" that saves the lives of the performers.

The new Age approach, the soothing warm bath, is fine as far as it goes. But as pianist Art Lande has said, "Many new age artists give you a rushing stream or a meadow. But where are all the animals? There's no story being told." Indeed, it seems a shame to reduce music to merely reassurance without conflict.

A preacher said at a service, "If you're too comfortable, we're here to make you uncomfortable, and if you're uncomfortable, we're here to make you comfortable." It seems the truth portrayed onstage can be either hard to take or a release, depending on your readiness. It might not even work in your life til years later, but when it does, watch out.

The last kind of entertainment is art. It uses all the other views of the audience as it sees fit, but most of all, loves its audience as fellow individuals seeking the truth, and hopes to show the truth with logic and humor. This is it. This, to me, is the kind of entertainment that does the most good for the longest time. Take 6 does that, in my mind. They're not pompous, but they are serious. They have a message, but they're not somber about it. We performers should all be so lucky.

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