May 282009

Hosts on the two sports-talk radio shows that I listen to often joke around about fan violations, those breeches to the unwritten code of cool sports fan behavior. Common violations that are cited range from the obvious, such as wearing the hat or jersey of a rival team if you’re not from that city, to more subtle offenses to the code, such as wearing the shirt emblazoned with the name and number of a good-but-not-legendary player a few years after he has left town. At Rock Town Hall, we typically monitor the unwritten code of rock musician violations, from issues of Look, between-song banter, and gear to the practices of Holstering or playing with one’s feet too close together, but have we ever discussed the unwritten code of appropriate rock fan behavior? Isn’t it time we do a service to rock fans worldwide and identify rock fan violations?


  34 Responses to “Rock Fan Violations”

  1. Mr. Moderator

    I know some musicians hate seeing people on their cell phones during a show, so maybe that’s one rock fan violation or maybe it’s just rude. I’m hoping to examine some more subtle behaviors in this thread. Are there issues related to dancing and physical space? Singing along? Are any song requests in violation or only requests for “Freebird?” Is it cool or not cool to party with friends before a show, listening to albums by the band you’re about to see? And does it matter if you listen to studio recordings or live albums/bootlegs? I remember Deadheads were especially big on listening to choice bootleg tapes while firing up before departing for a show.

  2. I remember Rickie Lee Jones bitching considerably about people in the Mann Music Center singing along with her. The nerve!

  3. saturnismine

    rock fan violation number 1: not being very good at pretending you know a lot about a band just to appear to be “with it”, but doing it anyway.

  4. Mr. Moderator

    Some good ones I received from a friend offlist:

    The camera flash that temporarily blinds everyone within 12 feet — but doesn’t actually reach the stage and illuminate the subject.

    The shouting of requests for songs that already have been played or are very unlikely ever to be played but are intended to show off the requester’s
    knowledge of the band’s back catalogue.

    The last one, in particular, this friend mentioned is EXCELLENT!

  5. Mr. Moderator

    I’m sure Geo wasn’t intending this to be the case, but to be clear, an artist’s beef with fan behavior is probably of little consequence. This code should be by the people, for the people – sensitive artists be dammed!

  6. Mr. Moderator

    The song request to impress others above all else reminds me of a violation I was an unknowing accomplice to. At the end of a Pere Ubu show at the Chestnut Cabaret, in whch their set focused on whatever new album they had out, in lieu of an encore singer David Thomas asked for requests from the audience. About 5 back catalog songs into the request set, a friend of mine requested some song that Thomas had released in an Ubu offshoot band in, like, 1977. Thomas has no idea what song was being requested. He even asked my friend for clarification and memory refreshment. It turns out it was a flexidisc with some long-forgotten fanzine. At that point Thomas basically told my friend to get a life.

  7. I saw Jonathan Richman with a similar rebuff, It had a big effect on the audience hipster too. He kept shouting for some old Modern Lovers song and Jonathan stopped playing whatever he had started and said “Yeah, yeah, we all read the same papers, buddy”.

    It’s one thing to get put in your place, but I don’t think the guy expected to get beat down by a guy singing about how he wants to be a little mosquito. He looked like he wanted to crawl in a hole.

  8. 2000 Man

    Attempting to save a sweet spot at a GA show for a friend that’s too busy or cool to watch the opening acts always bugged me.

    On a lighter note, I never wear a band’s shirt to a show. Not that I have many, but I wouldn’t show up a Stones show in a Stones shirt, though all the rest of them will. I like the guy that shows up at some obscure gig with an even more obscure band shirt on. But I’ll go to that obscure indie show and proudly wear a Stones tongue shirt!

    When I saw Paul Westerberg some guy thought it was funny to keep yelling “Freebird!” Paul stopped and said, “C’mon, does anyone think that’s funny anymore?” Some other guy yells out “Smoke on the Water!” Paul started laughing and said, “Now THAT’S funny!”

  9. saturnismine

    from the fan standpoint: it is a rock violation for a member of a band to wear his or her own band’s t-shirt.

  10. Didn’t the Stranglers pull a heckler up on stage and shove something where the sun don’t shine?

    Big violation is, of course, throwing things at the band.

  11. 2000 Man

    sat, did you ever see that Cream reunion that was on PBS awhile back? I was sitting there thinking, “man, this is really boring,” when all of a sudden I see Ginger Baker shilling their T Shirts! What a dink.

    cherguevara, no doubt throwing things at the band is uncool. I think those places with the cage in front of the band are encouraging it. If I were in a band and walked into a place like that, I’d split.

  12. Mr. Moderator

    Being rude and antisocial (eg, throwing stuff at a band) is not a violation; it’s just wrong. What 2K says about those places with chicken wire in front of the stage (do they exist beyond The Blues Brothers movie???) is, however, apt.

  13. hrrundivbakshi

    I may have told this story on RTH Chess, but a good friend of a number of townspeople — Jim from GW, for those wishing to put a face to the tale — was sort of anti-heckling The Saints, a band for who he had a huge hipster boner at the time. He kept shouting out things like “I love you, Chris!” and “You guys rock my world!” in between slugs of some cheap, highly alcoholic beverage.

    Anyhow, at some point, Saints front guy Chris stops between songs, right after Jim shouts something slavishly devotional at him, crouches down at the edge of the stage (which is where Jim was), and plants a BIG, very wet, surprisingly passionate kiss on Jim’s gob. Those of you who knew Jim in those years, and were familiar with his personal hygiene, know how much intestinal fortitude that must have taken.

  14. sammymaudlin

    Has anyone said puking yet? I’ve been to a lot of shows, and one just 5 weeks ago, where some dude puked not 3 feet from me.

    And this was an English Beat reunion show. We were all over 40 for crissake.

    Leaving an X show back in the day and some dude tells his girl to “hold-on” then proceeds to projectile puke all over the wall of the auditorium. Then he wipes his mouth with his sleeve and asks her if she wants to get something to eat. She started crying.

  15. saturnismine

    2k: best use of the word “dink” EVER.

    figures that Cream would be guilty of said violation.

    there’s a club in daytona beach with chicken wire. when i was on tour as nob turner / speaker listener for the electric love muffin (summer, ’87), our amp lifter got on stage to sing ‘hi-way’ star with them at the end of the set and climbed up the chicken wire in his underwear. mach schau indeed. the punkers loved it.

    hvb, that saints story is fucking GREAT. i hope you don’t hold your friend’s over-the-top fandom against them: they’re a great mid 70s punk band.

  16. 2 violations from the same club in Philly. The Tin Angel bills itself as a “listening room” so they have a lot of acoustic acts, but amplified none the less.

    Even when sitting way in the back by the bar away from the stage, there are prigs that feel they can shush you if you are talking during a set! Live music is a social event when I get to see friends I don’t see all the time. I like to socialize, and I’m respectful of the acts. I’m not a loud person. A live set is not a golf putt, or a classical concert. You ought to be able to talk in that kind of a public setting.

    On the flip side, I saw a blue grass band there which had guitar, stand up bass, banjo, and mandolin. No drums. Someone up front felt they had the right to bring their own maracas and shake them along. The band had to stop their set and point our how she was throwing off their timing, and ask if she would stop. The band is the band, and the audience is the audience. Never the twain should meet.

  17. She brought maracas to a show?! Did she light incense too? GD hippies

  18. saturnismine

    oh man….

    chickenfrank, you just reminded me: rockers playing solo or acoustic sets who shush the crowd are freaking LAME. I don’t care of it’s Joni Mitchell or Grant Hart (whom I’ve seen do that). LAME.

    i’m going to pick at this “pretend” rock fan-dom I suggested above. On a related note: the “fan” who pretends expert status while never having owned a note of an act’s recorded output and has never seen them play live.

    this is a major rock violation that, once suspected, can lead to some very entertaining conversations. string these people along and let them talk their shit. it’s great fun. and be nice to them, they’re only human, after all. who among us is without this sin? not i, but it’s been since i was in my 20s that i did so.

  19. Mr. Moderator

    EXCELLENT citations, Chickenfrank! I, too, share your belief that rock ‘n roll is not golf. (Golf, by the way, for the fact that it does not allow audience noise during the contest at hand, is not really a sport.)

  20. Mr. Moderator

    Here’s a question to ponder: If you’re a big person, no matter how early you get to a show and establish your place toward the front of the stage (if that’s your preference) is there a certain amount of smaller people you should let stand in front of you without sacrificing the work you did to get a spot near the front of the stage? In other words, is it a violation to be a tall guy right in front of the stage?

  21. BigSteve

    I hate the fans who whoop during the quiet parts of a song. Whooping is fine in between songs. Strangely it seems never to be practiced during the loud parts of songs. But people who feel the need to make their mindless presence felt by everyone in the room when there’s a soft passage in a song are in clear violation.

    And regarding the need to socialize during musical events, isn’t there a difference between the occasional comment and a constant stream of conversation? It seems to me that there are many, many bars devoted to socializing where they don’t have acoustic musicians playing.

  22. Big Steve – yes, whooping is really annoying. I saw Squeeze at the Tower and somebody had one of those plastic noise making horns. Jools Holland pretty much made like he was sincerely interested in this thing, and once the fan brought it up, he broke it in half.

    This thread brings to mind this unfortunate Art Garfunkel incident:

  23. saturnismine

    cool jools.

    BigSteve, i think it depends on the venue, and the volume at which the individuals talk. But regardless of those variables, I also think that it’s pretty standard, even in philly’s jazz and acoustic clubs (the quieter ones), that a steady flow of conversation is okay as long as it’s at a respectful volume, the audience is attentive and responsive if the performer speaks between songs, and the applause after songs is robust and appreciative.

    When audience members shush other audience members who behave according to the above common sense standards, and they almost always do (both) at the Tin Angel, I have a problem with the shush-ers, not the respectful talkers.

  24. some friends got shushed at Silk City about 10 years ago when the band Low played there. They were really friggin quiet. Really Low.

  25. BigSteve

    So, sat, as long as people pay attention when the artists are not playing, as you say, when they are speaking in between songs, it’s ok if they don’t pay attention while the artists are performing? Sorry, I just don’t get it.

  26. saturnismine

    Yes, BigSteve, you willfully disingenuous, argumentative, and lovable lug. Assuming that by “people”, you mean “every single soul in the whole place”, and by “while the artists are performing,” you really mean “the entire time the artists are performing,” then yes, that’s exactly what I’m shooting for: complete and utter inattention and low, murmuring chit-chat while the artist performs, and then feigned attention and enthusiasm after and between songs.

    seriously, though: all i’m asking for is politeness. talking in clubs is inevitable. surely you know this. undivided attention in a room full of people who are interested in music and who presumably like each other is also impossible. surely you know this, too. these are the circumstances that condition *all* listening experiences in clubs as opposed to concert halls.

    i am suggesting that people should be polite and respectful if they choose to talk. and further, i am stating that i am on the side of who are being polite, while engaging in the inevitable and occasional chit chat, rather than the people who shush them and expect complete and utter silence. they’re not being polite. they wouldn’t now politeness if it came up to them and gave them a big wet tongue kiss. in fact, they usually come off as very angry people, especially when, with their harsh and angry shushing sound, they make a louder noise than the low talkers (who, may even be discussing the musician’s performance. good heavens, say it aint so), and the artist (!!!).

    now, loud talkers are a different story of course. but they shouldn’t be treated to “SHHHHHHH” and an oh-so-intimidating and condescending *angry face.” they should be asked politely (with words) to talk lower.

    shush-ers are engaging in really antisocial behavior under the overly righteous banner of promoting social behavior. even if the shusher is beautiful and wants to have my children, i hereby solemnly swear to resist giving in to her charms. shush-ers are everything that’s wrong with this country.

    perhaps you’ve been shushed? for the record, i haven’t been shushed, but i sympathize with chickenfrank’s tin angel story because i’ve seen it happen.

    now’s the part where you ask another question that misrepresents / misinterprets what i said….

    go on….do your thing….

  27. Steve, I should have described the situation more accurately. I’m in the back of the club playing Sousa’s greatest hits on the boom box I brought to the club because I’m trying to show my friends a few new marching band steps for the big upcoming State vs. Tech football game.

    The artist’s grandfather looks back and shushes me. So I say, “Unless you want that cane shoved up your ass, I suggest you turn around, bitch!” So he turns around as my friends and I high five each other.

    The fact that he didn’t turn around again to bother us shows he understood how rude he had been to me. I think that proves that it’s always acceptable to talk at any level during a show, and it’s never acceptable to shush someone under any circumstances. Not sure where Sat is going with his “respectful” line of reasoning.

  28. Mr. Moderator

    The one Springsteen show I attended during The River tour was probably loaded with violations. The one that still sticks in my craw involved the 16,998 (my friend Sethro and I the only attendees excluded) people standing on their seats during long, slow ballads. Come on, man, ballads are for sitting – or hitting the can.

  29. My thing is this: If you pay money to see an artist, then socialize in a discreet manner. In a perfect world, there would abe a bar/socializing area far enough away from the stage so that those who choose to engage in conversations/pick up chicks can do so without disturbing the hardcore fan who wants hear every note played and every word said. That said, such diehard fan will get to the venue early enough to get spot close to their beloved artiste and will not be disturbed. Talking during a show does not bother me. Being obnoxious and loud and just carrying on a coversation about what you did at work all day does bother me. Hey, man, you paid good money to see these folks. If you just want to drink, go to the bar.

    Chickenfrank, when you brought that boombox, what Sousa march did you guys dig the most?


  30. BigSteve

    Worshipful silence is an unattainable ideal. Not to mention that most people you’d see in a club don’t deserve it. When I saw Richard Thompson play solo, he did deserve it but didn’t get it. The show became a war between shushers and talkers, and it was a disaster.

    I’ve never actually shushed anyone in a club. As a librarian I’m sensitive about being known as a shusher. Respectful talking is all anyone could ask for, but I’ve rarely seen it, or maybe it wouldn’t even register.

    It has sometimes occurred to me to ask people in a low voice if they could cool it. It occurred to me a few weeks ago when I saw Richard Buckner play solo. The people in front of me kept it up non-stop, either talking on cellphones, or to each other, or texting and showing each other the texts and giggling about them. It was insane. And in this club there are two separate rooms, one with a stage and one with a bar. But I could just tell that these people were so into themselves that asking them nicely would have had no effect, or even the opposite effect.

    I tend to seethe rather than shush, and then I leave early. I’m no fun.

  31. saturnismine

    BigSteve, I agree with you…when it’s respectful, it usually doesn’t register, because it’s not irksome to anyone.

    Here’s a healing observation.

    The head librarian at one of the libraries i frequent is a loud talker. She sees nothing wrong with speaking in full voice from behind the circulation desk! It drives me just short of complete insanity. And when I tell people I think it’s a shame that a librarian, of all people, likes to talk loudly in the library, many of them (esp. younger people) don’t get it, or they claim they’ve never noticed it before.

    i wish you worked there (for my sake, though, not for yours: the pay vs. cost of living up here isn’t as favorable as where you are now).

  32. I tend to seethe, too. But I honestly don’t mind talking. Again, I usually position myself amongst the adulators and leave the talking to the folks in the back. If I myself am marginally interested in who it is I am seeing, I position myself in the back. I try to respect the diehards.


  33. 2000 Man

    I figure it’s a rock show, people are gonna talk and yell and dance and hopefully have fun. I have whooped pretty damned loud on occasion, but then again, the music is usually really loud when I’m doing that. It’s like riding a roller coaster, and when it gets really loud and fast, I gotta let it out!

  34. Mr. Moderator

    I make my share of noise at shows, as I also do a baseball games. I had a great time, for instance, yelling at tonight’s Phils-Nationals game.

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