February 22, 2003


A live performer will do almost anything to excite his audience.
I say this as a live performer and as a member of many audiences. It's hard to give up a dream...especially one that's become a way of life. When a fisherman wakes up to discover that half the world has gone vegetarian he'll work twice as hard to corner as much of the market that remains. It's his livelihood afterall.

Last week I watched JAWS for the umpteenth time. By now you'd think I could quote the script word for word from memory. "It's a man-eater...it's a Great White!" Matt Hooper tells the Mayor of Amity Island. At least I think those are the exact words.

I read something somewhere recently where Peter Benchley (author of book-form Jaws) talked about his struggle to settle on a title for his story. "Jaws Of Death." "Within The Jaws." "When Jaws Attack" and other such options. The only word anyone liked was "Jaws", and so it became just that.

"In a suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, the '80's band Great White..." the radio spit out before I could hit the snooze button. "Sharks in New England again..." I thought. "...were playing a concert at a nightclub called The Station when a pyrotechnics display set the club ablaze."
More details followed. 30 patrons have perished. Then 35 were gone. The number was sure to rise, we were told.

I'd heard of the band, I must have. Heck, they were nominated for a Grammy--so we're now informed. I don't know their music. But I know now that they began their show; and moments into the opening number sparks were flying. A magnificent site judging from the video that's been playing on the news--taken inside the club by a film-maker doing a documentary on nightclub safety. Yes, the crowd was shouting, woo-hoo'ing, bottles of beer ritually raised in the air. Then there was fire behind the band. A guitar player, tight, a trooper going through his well-practiced riffs and phrases, was staring at the wall. Something had gone terribly wrong, the band played on. Three minutes later a hundred people were dead or dying. The rest were bottle-necked at the front door, firemen trying to pull them apart, to jostle them free. Three minutes; not even enough time to wonder how on God's green earth this could have happened.

"Stare not for too long a time into the fire, lest fire soon be all ye see," someone had cautioned Ishmael in Moby-Dick. Ishmael was mesmerized by burning whale oil, but his cautioner was talking about something else: obsession.

The assignment of blame has begun. The club owners claim they were never asked for permission for the band to use fireworks. The band claims that they asked, and were granted, permission verbally. The club owners had no permit to have pyrotechnic displays in their venue. At least four club owners who've hosted earlier dates in Great White's tour--the Stone Pony in New Jersey for one--claim that the band used those sparklers without permission. Some others say that the band had asked for permission, were denied, and obliged without protest.

Whatever the truth is--and we don't have enough information yet to know what the truth is--someone has made a grave miscalculation.

Could the club owners have been so obsessed with an inflated patronage that they allowed pyrotechnics in the 60-year-old low-ceiling wooden structure?
Could the band have been so obsessed with exciting their audience that they would use the white hot visual aids without regard to the niceties of written permission?
A live preformer will do almost anything to excite his audience. Being that the patrons weren't expecting any fireworks when they arrived at the door; one of those options seems more likely than the other.

Posted by Tuning Spork at February 22, 2003 06:06 PM
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