A dedication: To the hecklers and the drunk girls and the shitkickers who think they own the place. To the bozo spilling his beer and the gentleman who ashed on my head. To the people on their cell phones. To the cute alterna-girl who thinks tits and a few bottles of Manic Panic give you a free pass to elbow strangers out of the way. To the tool who grabbed my ass and the bouncer who laughed about it. To the yuppie who gobbled two parking spaces. To the people who cut in line, stomp on toes, talk through the show--the dumb people, the mean people. We've all been there, but it's a new year. We can be better than this. So I dedicate this story to the people who care. To the people who see music, and love music, and want the experience to be as good as it can be. And--by the way--it can be good. Remember: Rock music is rude. You don't have to be.
1. Shut Yer Yap
It was one of those teeth-chattering winter nights in Big D, but the Gypsy Tea Room was positively humid with people. The young and the old-ish packed the floor to see poet-balladeer Damien Rice sing the sweet, weepy songs they fell in love with listening to O on repeat, repeat, repeat. "Oh, my God, this is my favorite," said the girl behind me, clutching her chest, as Rice launched into "The Blower's Daughter," as lovely and fragile as Steuben stemware. Then, a noise began to grow. Clank-clank. Actually, it had been growing for some time, but now it was impossible to ignore. Hiss, shuffle, shriek, pfffft. A veritable other show was eclipsing in the back of the club--people talking on the phone, flirting, telling jokes. "I think we'll all enjoy this show better if the people who are talking right now can be quiet," Rice said in his polite Irish lilt. But even critical darlings who sprinkle opera in their albums aren't safe from the third-rate coffeehouse treatment. Gosh, Mr. Rice, were you saying something? The baffling thing--no, the appalling thing--is that these a-holes paid $20 to babble through a show and dampen the experience for the vast majority of people who gave a damn. Music should be social, but talking through a set is anti-social. Wrong. Rude. Grounds for banishment, or at least a kick in the junk. Got that, sucka?
2. All the Big Guys in the House, Over There
OK, I am short. Many great people are. Short people have contributed a great deal to society--Chinese food, the Napoleanic Wars, Diff'rent Strokes. Short people even saved Middle Earth. Now, it's your turn to give back. If you are a tall person, try to be cognizant of where you stand at a club. Preferably, you could stand on the sides, or by a column. If not, maybe you could try not to shift around too much. See, most likely, there's someone short behind you, straining her neck like a Modigliani to get a decent view, and if you shuffle about, you'll send her reeling into what yogis refer to as the "ass-backwards whooping crane." Not a pretty sight. But I have this crazy idea. What if we arranged the crowd like a school photo? It would take only a few minutes--shorties in the front, beanpoles in the back, a few good sports kneeling to the side. Ahh, that's better. Now say cheese!
3. Now, Girls: Stop Peeing on the Toilet Seat
Seriously. I'm tired of sitting in your urine.
4. Tip Your Bartender
"You know what tip stands for?" Tim Hunt asks. "To Insure Prompt or Proper Service." Hunt is a veteran barkeep who runs Down on Commerce Street. I consulted him because I haven't always been such a great tipper; a waiter once chased me down for leaving two bucks on a $50 bar tab. When a colleague instructed me to tip a dollar a drink, I was incredulous. "Even for a bottle of beer? I should pay him extra for uncapping a drink?" That's not the point, Hunt says. Tipping is a gesture, not a measure of physical exertion. "You want to establish yourself so you'll get good service. You could drink an Amstel Light at home. You go to a bar for the company." So--sigh--a buck a beer. Anything else? "If you get a free drink, tip the bartender the price of that drink," Hunt says. "Never go, 'Bartender!' Never bang on my bar. Never get my attention if you don't know what you want. Never order for a big group unless you're paying for that group." He thinks for a minute, spinning a glass in his palm and smacking it on the counter. "And always tip heavy."
5. Note to Dallas Clubs: We're Workin' People!
I'm still young enough to rip a hole in Friday night. I do-si-do with the devil. In a nutshell: I party. But please, please, please--start shows earlier on weeknights. There's no reason for a Tuesday-night headliner to begin at midnight when many of us have to work in the morning. Several major markets start weeknight shows earlier. Dallas should follow suit. The music and the musicgoers are suffering.
6. And Another Thing...
Ice water should be accessible at all venues. It cuts down on bar lines and keeps us hydrated.
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7. Check, Please?
How can bands improve their sound in a club? For this we called upon 30-year veteran Arthur Stephens of Deep Ellum Live and the Granada. "I've never met a soundman that didn't say, 'If you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you. If you give me a hard time, I can give you a hard time, too.'" Yes, little MTV2-wannabes, the soundman can--how do you say?--fuck you. "If you throw around attitude, it doesn't make anything easier," says Stephens, who says it's fine to tweak sound during the show as long as you're specific. "If you point your finger at a piece of equipment, I don't know what you want." Soundmen--really, all of us--just want a little respect. "When the band asks the crowd, 'How does it sound?' it makes me feel like, 'Maybe I should let that drunk guy run sound, and I'll go get a drink,'" Stephens says. "You don't have to have a degree to run sound, but I'm not sure asking a bunch of drunk people how it sounds is the best tactic."
8. Band Together
The other day I asked a musician, "What do a lot of local bands do that they shouldn't?" He thought for a minute. "Harmonize?" Later, in talking with other people, I got a variety of other suggestions--don't use roadies if you're not in a big house, don't use gimmicks, don't bring your own lighting rig--but the bottom line is this: The music is what matters. As long as you're trying to write better songs, as long as you're trying to play better, as long as you value art over attitude, you're on the right track. We wish you luck.