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Reinventing Ourselves

Baker Lee • FOH at LargeJuly 2020 • July 10, 2020

Illustration by Andy Au

I love a good conspiracy theory! Conspiracy theories are fun for the whole family and provide hours, days, months and years of on-going conversation and debate during holiday gatherings and vacations. Conspiracy theories can also be taken out of the home and loudly debated in bars, restaurants and even one’s place of employment. However, these same conspiracy debates are similar to arguing whether or not Joe Louis could have bested Mohammad Ali or if Cy Young could have outpitched Nolan Ryan if they played against each other. As entertaining as such arguments might be — and despite all the statistics that might push forward one outcome or the other — these personal opinions are, at best, an exercise in futility.

‡‡ Everybody Loves a Good Conspiracy Theory

Like most people, I have grown up with conspiracy theories. At the tender age of 12, I was introduced to the intrigue of these schemes by the assassination of JFK. This deadly deed, with all its anomalies, aroused my curiosity and led me down the rabbit hole in pursuit of information regarding the powerful and unseen forces that manipulate our collective consciousness and the world in which we live. It’s not difficult to understand how and why conspiracy theories have become so popular. When odd events occur and official explanations seem implausible, we tend to let our imaginations run wild and fill in the blanks with what we deem as more probable answers. We solve the mysteries confronting us with a narrative that satisfies our own suspicions and agenda, but while many of these theories may get social media validation, they are still just opinions.

As conspiracy theories are (by nature) accusatory, it should be remembered that in our system of law, guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Posting specious claims on social media is as useful to our collective consciousness as is the hypothetical history of ancient aliens. Or turn to reading a good conspiracy novel that can justify all of your misgivings. Personally, I like The Manchurian Candidate and Three Days of the Condor as well as the lesser-known Genesis by W.A Harbinson. Of course, there’s an abundance of online fear mongering that can feed one’s paranoia during this time of pandemic, and besides the virus, there are murder hornets, bad cops, protests and looting to occupy our free time.

Considering the baby steps we are taking out of lockdown, trying to make sense of the daily headlines and online opinions might be a good way to pass the time and satisfy all one’s conspiratorial uncertainties. Better yet, if you have a valuable opinion to add to the conversation, write your own book. Entertain readers with an insightful and exciting tale of intrigue and adventure as you tell the story of one man’s quest to uncover long kept government secrets in order to save the world from the evil forces seeking universal domination.

‡‡ Waiting for the Green Light

In any case, after three months of not working, I have weaned myself from the conspiratorial teat and have allowed my un-tethered imagination to roam into new territories of fear and conjecture. As we jointly try to return to the life we once knew, it seems recent changes that have occurred may possibly have a lasting effect on our industry of live sound. Certainly, everyone I speak with is anxious to work again. From musicians to technicians, all are awaiting the green light to gainfully assemble without the sword of Damocles hanging over our communal head, and while it may appear that worldwide protests are changing the narrative, it doesn’t alter the fact that live entertainment is, for the most part, still closed.

While America struggles to open amid a flood of varying information, today’s NPR headline reads: “America’s Independent Music Venues Could Close Soon Due to Coronavirus.” One paragraph from the article states: “The survey of nearly 2,000 music professionals was conducted by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a recently established advocacy group for music venue owners and promoters. Its members include The Bowery Ballroom in New York City, Troubadour in Los Angeles, 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. and Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.”

The article then goes on to report $9 billion dollars in industry losses for 2020 with 62 percent of American artists being unemployed. I spoke to Paul Rizzo, the owner of the iconic Bitter End in New York City and he expressed his concern that if and when the club reopens the restrictions imposed may make it impossible to sustain an acceptable financial flow. If this ominous prediction of club closings should occur, it will leave only major players such as Live Nation and AEG as venue owners, which in itself may have its own dire consequences.

This virus may be a true game-changer, and with the fear of sounding like the voice of doom, it might just be that live music and concerts, as we know them, are a thing of the past. It may be time to reinvent ourselves, and before you dismiss my dystopian nightmare as paranoid hyperbole, think back to how digital home studios started to come into existence in the 1980s, and by the 2000s, many professional studios closed. Back during that same 1980s timeframe in New York City, there was a glut of small clubs catering to local, unknown and up-and-coming musicians. Due to rent increases in the 2000s, many of these venues were forced to reinvent themselves or shutter their establishments. Lastly, who would have imagined record stores closing their doors to leave the general population at the mercy of Pandora or Spotify?

‡‡ Down the Road

Predicting the future is as tenuous as repeating conspiracy theories, but reinvention is already underway, with many musicians doing live stream shows while putting out virtual tip jars. Of course, in my opinion, streaming pales in comparison to an actual live concert, but that’s because it’s what I know and have known for years. Think ahead five, 10 or 20 years — where might we be in terms of our society and technology. Kids as young as three years old are now are playing virtual online learning games with their friends and while teenagers are becoming immersed in virtual interactive war games, the adults can enjoy everything from virtual bingo to virtual interactive porn.

My point? Once a company discovers a way to actually monetize live streaming, virtual concerts or holographic video, they may not want to go back to their old modus operandi. I’m not advocating standing in the way of progress, but my concern is that the new generation may find that rolling around with their friends in virtual mud, while attending a virtual holographic concert of their favorite band, is preferable to the real thing that we have all grown to know and love.

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