It seems that my attendance of concerts varies inversely with my enjoyment, and as I become more ubiquitous at local open mics and active in the local music scene I am increasingly unable to enjoy the music of anyone else unless they are completely flawless.
(Recently, Ani DiFranco, but locally Alexandra Day.)
Other than those bastions of perfection, everything is open to critique – whether I’m trying to be critical or not.
Last month I saw an indie musician who could not get his physical and vocal tics under control long enough to simply sing one of his strong songs. A few weeks ago we saw Regina Spektor open for Ani DiFranco, and I criticized her enunciation and her poor setlist compilation abilities.
Last week at an open mic I rolled my eyes at a hapless guy who played three songs all in the same position. Last night we saw a local band, and I didn’t think anything was in the right key for the singer, and their bassist was useless.
I was a critic to begin with, but now that I’ve been playing more actively I’m all-too-cognizant of all the ways a performer can go wrong, and as soon as I spot one I can’t help but be cruelly unforgiving of its performer.
Critiquing Regina is one thing – she’s a major label hit that ought to know how to open for an audience of strangers by now. It’s the other examples that are more dangerous. If I can’t appreciate and complement other independent and local performers then I am always going to be that asshole with the ego, and people will judge me even harsher for it.
I know I’m not perfect – I’m brutally cognizant of my many flaws as a performer, and they’re the primary reason I don’t perform or record more often. I suppose I just expect every artist that have the same ruthless urge to self-censor until improvements can be made. And, when I do it on their behalf it makes it hard to make connections or friends, and you need both to get noticed as a local musician.
If I was Regina I would have started with one of my crunchy pop hits and followed it with something alliterate and obscure to catch the less mainstream Ani fans. But, maybe that’s not how she’s gotten this far, so who am I to correct her?
But, if I was an indie on my first tour, grasping for new audience members, I’d play in the mirror more often. If I was that hapless guy I would have found a different position to play my song in, or played something in a different key for my middle song. And, if I was the lead singer last night I would have taken voice lessons, tuned down a few of my songs, and backed off the mic.
I have shared all of those flaws, and because I am me I have enacted each of those solutions – because I am ruthlessly eliminating anything anyone could dislike about me until the until reason left to dislike me is me myself.
But, I can’t afford to be so ruthless towards everybody else, or I’ll never have any one receptive in an audience to appreciate all my betterment, and to spread the words to their friends.
Or, via the Larry Sanders Show:
What have we learned here? When you’re vulnerable and humble, people like you. When you act like an asshole, people tend to think of you as an asshole.