I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Monday, July 19, 2010

The New Free Bird

How does Bob Saget play Purple Rain?
Justin Tiemeyer tells him to. That's how.
There is a measurable difference in awesomeness between me and your normal concert-goer. For example, I don't even think about leaving a concert until they raise the house lights and play somebody else's music on the house speakers. I don't get fooled by that whole "Thank you, good night!" charade.

More importantly, your normal rock fan still thinks it's cool to yell out "Stairway!" or "Free Bird!" When these shouts arise I think to myself, "Fools! Have you no popular culture sensitivity?" After all, the 1992 film Wayne's World closed the book on shouting out "Stairway to Heaven," with the line, "No Stairway? Denied!" Similarly, the 2005 film The Devil's Rejects gave us the closure we've always been seeking for the tragic plight of Lynyrd Skynyrd when a gruesome gunfight arises to the tune of "Free Bird." (Kudos to Rob Zombie for not playing "Blaze of Glory" instead.) If you know your history, then you know it's not cool to yell out "Stairway!" or "Free Bird!" at concerts anymore.

Unfortunately, however, there there is a kind of human need that is expressed in yelling stupid things to musicians at concerts. Just as there are checks and balances in the United States Constitution to prevent tyranny of one individual or group of individuals, yelling out "Stairway!" is a way of placing checks and balances on the possible tyrannical power of a performer. If it's no longer cool to yell out the names of these two classic songs, then how are we to regain our democratic right from these bullies up on stage? It was in response to this question and in light of my obsession with Prince that I began shouting out "Purple Rain!" at concerts.

"Purple Rain!" is golden. It's a song that everyone is familiar with. Just as importantly, it is still uncommon to hear as a request at a concert. That means it's still cool to shout it out. Every performer prepares a pat response to the inevitable "Stairway!" or "Free Bird!" But now there's a new level of measuring the coolness (and thus the power) of a performer: in all likelihood any given performer has not prepared for the "Purple Rain!" contingency, so if said performer can deal with this request in a cool and interesting way, this performer can be called cool.

* * *

Two nights before seeing Bob Saget I went to a Pete Yorn concert at the Dallas House of Blues. At this point I had been shouting out "Purple Rain!" at concerts for something over a year, and nobody had satisfied me with a really cool response. That night I requested the tune twice. The second time was with Pete Yorn himself, who didn't bat an eye at the request despite the fact that I was directly in front of him in the first row of general admission fans. The first time was with Yorn's opener, a young musician named Isaac Russell.

"Purple Rain!" I shouted. "Purple Rain?" Isaac Russell asked. "YEAH!" I shouted. Russell then proceeded to look from his guitar to his microphone and back for some thirty seconds, a look of mischief coming over him. Finally, as if he shook the devil off his shoulder, he said directly to me, "No. I'm not going to do that song."

Things did not look promising when I saw a live Bob Saget comedy set. For normal concerts, the general admission tickets admit one to the floor of the Dallas House of Blues. There are no chairs on the floor, and if you get to the House of Blues on time you can go right up to the front. At the Pete Yorn concert, a woman with a cheap admission ticket received Yorn's harmonica. He walked right up to her, kneeled down and placed it gently into her hands. For the Bob Saget show there were chairs on the floor, and these were the most expensive seats in the house. With general admission tickets we were pushed to the back toward the bar, an area loaded with pillars and douche bag college students to obstruct ones visual and auditory lock on Saget. I was fo far away from Saget that the Wayne's World line paraphrased itself in my mind: "No Purple Rain? Denied!"

To my surprise someone handed Bob Saget an acoustic guitar, and to me this was like some divine being handing me a second chance at greatness. My first chance at greatness was during a Justin Timberlake concert in Dallas a couple of years earlier. It was at this concert that I mastered surfing on the sound waves of the crowd. What I mean by this is that I was silent while the crowd was shouting, but just as soon as the crowd got to its quietest point waiting for Timberlake to speak, I'd shout something. I was against the back wall of the American Airlines Center, and in the relative silence I let out a lion's roar of a request: "DICK IN A BOX!" After about three requests Timberlake played a verse from this song: "Not gonna buy you a diamond ring / That sort of gift don't mean anything." Of course, his entire family was in the audience this night, so he looked up in the general direction of my hollering and asked, "Is it cool if I play another song?"

Saget was even more difficult than Timberlake. With Timberlake, I knew that he at least knew the words and tunr to the song I was requesting. Timberlake's concert, despite the screaming girls, had many more moments of silence. Bob Saget just keeps talking and talking, slinging insults at a rate that one begins to wonder if he needs to breathe. I found a silent moment, however, as he was adjusting the acoustic guitar on his lap. Taking advantage of this brief window of time I shouted, "PURPLE RAIN!" Saget's head stuck bolt upright and he said, "What?" I shouted again, "PURPLE RAIN!" Bob Saget began firing off questions. Had we ever met before? How old was I? Insult, insult, insult. I didn't catch all of it. But then he started strumming the chords that I know so well and singing that beautiful Prince tune. It went on for a verse and a chorus before he said, "This is a really long song," and stopped.

* * *

In the aftermath of living the greatest story ever told, I'm left with the question, "What's next?" Is there any point in requesting "Purple Rain!" if it'll never be more unique and insane than when it was performed by potty-mouthed comedian - not musician - Bob Saget? Ought I to move on to another song? And if so, what could compare? To paraphrase Prince: "Nothing compares 2 Purple Rain."

Though I'm largely in the dark as to how to respond to this situation, I know two things for certain. First, I know that there is some strange and dark Dickensian moment in the past that connects Bob Saget to the song Purple Rain, and I intend to find out more about this. Second, I know that there is still at least one person who might surprise me more than Saget doing "Purple Rain."

So, look out, Mr. President.

Pack your guitar, Mr. Barack Obama, because I'm coming at you with a personal request.

And it sure ain't "Free Bird!"

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