Jesse Jarnow

on cell cams at shows

My first reaction to Tom Cox’s “Don’t film it, feel it” editorial in the London Times was annoyance. And, after thinking about, it still is.

I get Cox’s point: if people are spending the whole shows taking pictures on their phones, they’re not listening. Admittedly, it’s frustrating. A few months ago, I saw my friend’s band, the Rolling Stallones, play at CBGB. During the opening act, a gaggle of girls up front spent literally 20 minutes taking pictures of each other in front of the stage. I don’t think it was even for the purposes of documenting themselves at the soon-to-closed venue. It was just obscenely narcissistic.

But were the girls taking pictures of each other really going to be “listening” to the show, anyway? Going to see live music is about far more than just the music coming out of the speakers, otherwise you wouldn’t fork your money over and you could just stay at home and listen to the stolen mp3s. It’s a social act, with all the attendant relationships.

Though I’m a big proponent of cell cameras, I almost never take pictures at gigs. But that’s just me. Even though there are tons of differences, I associate their use at shows with the act of smuggling a cheap cassette deck in to make a bootleg. The content is different, even the action is different — cell cams being condoned, bootlegs being, well bootlegs — but I think it’s the same impulse. The resultant tangle of Flickr pages, MySpace and Facebook pictures is obviously ephemeral. But so is live music. That’s sort of the point, right?

It all seems like a way of engaging with the music. And by “the music,” of course, I mean everything besides the music itself: one’s friends, the rest of the crowd, the band, the club. In an age where one’s relationship with music is more complex than just listening to albums and going to shows, it’s sometimes good to be able to locate herself in the noise.

Of course I was annoyed by the girls at the show. It wasn’t because they were taking pictures, though. It was because they just wouldn’t shut up. But that’s a much older problem.