Rock’s Greatest Venues #1
by Regis Boff
There is no gentler manner to make money in the music business than by managing a performer who needs only a chair, a guitar and her voice.
I am Irish. I believe that there exists an impaired ethnic brotherhood of the prideful in the world. I think the Japanese fall into this category. These fuckers will stab themselves in the stomach if they get too disgraced. Arabs seem to belong here too. They are perpetually over -heated about some slight or other. We all know how atomic Italians can be.
Working for Melanie as an entry level gopher tested my self-image. It was not her doing. She could not have been nicer. I was just young and mistakenly thought everybody should give a shit about my dignity. They did not.
One of my jobs was particularly galling. She played venues of around one to six thousand seats. These are the loveliest auditoriums everywhere in the world. They are old theaters or small symphony halls and are typically intensely ornate and always have a certain fragrance. They smell of art.
She played a venue in Pittsburgh, my hometown, called The Syria Mosque in 1972. This building was originally a “mystical” shrine for the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (the Shriners). Most likely every band that ever toured played it at least once. Frederico Caruso played it in 1920, John Phillips Sousa in ’24, Buddy Holly, four times between ’57 and ’58, Bob Dylan in ’66. The Who in 1969 ( before me), Genesis 74, 75 and 76 ( with me).
To come back home working for someone performing at The Syria Mosque was a very big deal for my family and me. I think my mother expected me to sing.
The side of the stage that faces the audience is called the “fourth wall.” The phrase “breaking the fourth wall” refers to when a performer addresses the audience directly as part of the dramatic production, (Kevin Spacey in House of Cards). The expression can also refer to when a member of the cast or crew walks onto the stage or into the house when there is an audience inside.
Many rock performers break this wall by leaping into the audience from the stage, trusting that their audience will, in their delight, catch him and pass him around. I have seen this not turn out well.
Melanie encouraged her audience to break this fourth wall by coming up onto the stage with her towards the end of her set. They would sit cross-legged in front of her and sing along, which was genuinely sweet.
When the audience came on stage, my job was to sit quietly a little behind her, sort of as protection.
Her audience was deep in young girls, and the boys were all totally in love.
Everyone believes they lived in a violent, threatening world growing up. No one in my neighborhood reported bullies because no one would have cared. You would be a coward if you did tell. Occasionally a father would shoot a bully if the beatings to his son became too severe, and for this he was forgiven as long as the gun gauge was not too much overkill.
This preamble brings me clumsily here. I am big, so it is rare for me to be afraid of anybody, but everybody has somebody.
My somebody was sitting at Melanie’s knees that night singing along for all he was worth.