Cellphones Killed the Rock Star

Technology is distorting and destroying music fans’ real-world memories

At the City & Colour concert at Bogart's a couple of months ago, I watched as a woman in the front row texted her way through both of the great opening acts. I glanced around and discovered that she wasn’t the only one. I figured everyone would surely stop when Dallas Green and the rest of C&C took to the stage. Three songs in and the crowd was still lit up by glowing phones.

Everywhere I looked people were texting, tweeting, Facebooking or recording the night away. Often, both members of a couple would be recording the same song, as if the iPhone 12 inches to the left might just capture something different from theirs. I watched as a group of friends passed around a cell phone with a message from another friend who, I assume, wasn’t present (or maybe was just three feet away). 

And the band played on.

This left me disappointed in humanity.

Of course, it goes beyond concerts. There was a well-circulated photo from one of President Obama’s inaugural balls where, in the background, you can see a blurry President and First Lady onstage. In the foreground are a hundred or so little blue squares. Everyone had their cellphone lifted above their heads, trying to capture the historic moment. I guess there’s no point in attending an inaugural ball unless you can tell (and show off for) all your friends?

The night of the City & Colour concert, Dallas Green politely asked that everyone put their phones away for just one song. 

His request was simple but profound: “Forget about trying to remember a show (so hard) that you forget to experience it.”

There is a ridiculously cliché quote about life not being about how many breaths you take but about the moments that take your breath away. Those moments are supposed to be sudden and surprising, like a shooting star. You will never see all the shooting stars, which is why the ones you do witness always cause you to gasp.

My favorite mid-concert memory comes from a Mumford & Sons show in Knoxville, Tenn. Halfway through a song, frontman Marcus Mumford was playing guitar and dropped his head forward onto the shoulder of the banjo-playing Winston Marshall. Winston pushed his forehead against Marcus’s shoulder in return. It was obviously an emotional moment for the longtime best friends. 

In all the social media fan-girling, I’ve yet to come across another mention of the moment.

What was everyone doing for those five or 10 seconds? Taking pictures of the other two members? Tweeting to all their followers about how excited they were to be at a sold-out Mumford & Sons gig? No. They were updating their status to, “… is front row @MumfordandSons @TheValarium.” How did 1,500 people not see this moment?

They missed a shooting star.

Worse yet, during the 2011 festival season, a lighting tech tweeted from the Bonnaroo festival that he was sitting in Neil Young’s car … with Neil Young.

Things to do when in the presence of Neil Young besides tweet:

- Hand him a guitar

- Tell him “The Needle & The Damage Done” is your favorite song

- Ask him how he feels when people cover his work. Does he have a favorite cover?

Not this guy, though. This guy sat three feet away from a freaking Rock Star and stared at his phone. Like a boss.

Aside from the obvious effects of robbing themselves of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, I wonder if people realize what else they’re doing. Are they unaware that they can often be seen from the stage? Aren’t they thinking about how hard it is for an artist to look down and try to connect with blue faces lit up by cellphone screens? Mumford & Sons will never read this, but I know that among the cellphones they saw my proud grin.

What about the aging Rock Star looking into his rear view mirror? I have no doubt the lighting tech finds Neil Young just as God-like as my father thought he was 40 years ago. But does Neil Young know? I would bet that Neil Young has probably never read a tweet about how stoked a fan was to meet him. He’s looking for that excitement in eyes that are cast down on a glowing screen.

An average year for me usually consists of spending more money on concert tickets and gas to get to the shows than I spend on payments for my Volkswagen. (It’s a little sad and very irresponsible. I regret nothing.) I have a few pictures and one video. And that’s enough. I remember just as much as the girl who filmed every song. I looked up. I paid attention. I’ve seen dozens of shooting stars and I remember every single one without the aid of a picture or tweet.

You should try it sometime. You might find it rewarding. 

CONTACT DEIRDRE KAYE: [email protected]

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