By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Fuzzy-edged though differences between generations are, surely one difference between people of my own age and those born after 9/11 is their experience of “security.” I never went through a metal detector in school; never in my wildest dreams would I have thought this country would come to that. And as for airports! Anyhow, this Zeitgeist Watch anecdote that a friend threw over the transom starts out being about security. But there’s a plot twist!
Joan Baez is on her farewell tour, so I grabbed some last minute seats (not cheap, but still a deal considering that scalpers were selling at 4-500 dollars) and went to see her last night with a friend of mine. I seldom go to concerts in New York these days but Joan Baez was one of my first musical heroes, and out of solidarity, nostalgia, and a respect for someone still up there singing at 75, I decided it was important to be there. So I stayed in New York a bit longer.
My friend and I made it a total splurge–we had a prix fixe pre-theater dinner at a lovely French restaurant about 15 minutes walk from the venue on 75th street and Broadway. We had tickets in hand, and figured that we could arrive 15 minutes before 8pm and have plenty of time to get seated before the concert started (in NYC there’s always a 20 minute lag time between scheduled start and actual start, longer if it’s a rock band haha).
But when we arrived at the Beacon theater, a shocking scene awaited us: two lines of perhaps 1000 people in all snaking in lines around the block. At first I thought, wow, what a pity, look at all these poor fans who didn’t pick up their tickets yet and have to wait at the Will Call window. Then we starting noticing that all the people in these lines, like us, had tickets in hand too. And by asking, and walking and walking, we discovered that we were all expected to wait on these lines that were slowly, excruciatingly, edging towards the door of the theater.
What was going on? we wondered, as we walked further and further away from the entrance to finally find the end of the line–on Amsterdam Avenue, literally at the back door of the venue. Then we noticed that at the back door, there was a metal screening detector, the same sort that you see at airports, and some very serious guys in suits looking through the bags of every person going inside and waving a wand and occasionally patting someone down.
About 15 or 20 minutes later, we got to the front entrance and our own “checkpoint.” It was not a friendly scene. The security guards were stopping everyone, looking through every bag and they were definitely on edge. This was not like airport security “theater”. This was “red alert” security and the guys seemed like spooks, not hired temp guards. My friend tried asking “What’s this? Do you do this at all concerts now?” and they snapped at her “This is what you have to do in America now!”
I assumed there had been a threat against Baez, and this extra security was due to her politics. Yet I couldn’t imagine that Baez, who marched in the south with MLK, etc, would have asked for such extreme measures, carried out by such goons. Then I wondered–I who have not been to a concert in the US in so many years: Is this really what you have to do in the US now?”
We finally got to our (unexpectedly good!) seats, and she had just started the first number. Both of us felt rattled and shoved around and depressed by the sorry experience of how we entered the theater. It took us about 15 minutes to get into the vibe of the music. The security theater had very nearly ruined the show for us. I was especially distressed to think that it was because the artist performing was Joan Baez.
Then, about halfway into the set, she sang that awful song about Obama singing Amazing Grace (Baez was taken in by the Obama mania of 2008, a lapse for her), and she introduced it by saying “This is about the other good president”. I didn’t get that line, but a few songs later it became clear when she sang “The Night They Drove old Dixie Down” and mentioned that “Bill had requested that song about Dixie….”
Then I looked down the orchestra to the spot she was speaking at. A silver corona was bobbing up and down. Yes it was the Big Dog, in about the 6th row center.
The security, the lines, the nastiness at the door–it was not for Joan Baez. It was for Bill Clinton.
F*cking Bill Clinton ruined my Joan Baez concert. Not only because of the security crap, but because I had to listen to Joan Baez say nice things about him. Surely she, who marched with MLK, realizes the enormity of what Clinton did to blacks in America. Surely she understands the damage he did to poor people, the banking system. Surely she knows this.
The thought that perhaps she does not nearly completely spoiled my evening.
The music was lovely. Interestingly, she did not sing We Shall Overcome.
The title of this post is, for those who came in late, the set-up to the famous joke whose punchline is “The aristocrats!” (the movie; example). And you’d think that Clinton would at least have thrown a few gold coins from his coach to the people waiting in line because of his “security” (double-edged phrase, there, what?). Clinton has the wherewithal to pay Baez for a private performance, much as King James I did when he put Shakespeare’s players under Royal patronage. So why didn’t he just do that, instead of inconveniencing thousands of people? And while we’re at it, what about fawning artiste Baez? “I’d like to thank all the little people”? A hell of an act….