As a lifelong musician, I've performed in roadhouses, frat houses, opera houses and friends' houses. I've played prisons, churches, college campuses and hospitals. Audience behavior has always fascinated me, and performing in public has afforded me a perch to practice my own brand of honky-tonk sociology. I feel qualified to make the following pronouncement with grim certainty: The average American has the attention span of a lobotomized fruit fly.
I am old enough to recall the hippie days, when we'd all sit on the floor, staring rapt, grooving on every note. But lately, when I peer out from the stage at a roomful of folks interacting with their phones while gabbing frantically at peak volume, I'm treated to an experience akin to playing in a birdcage full of screeching raptors on crack. As the evening progresses, I watch as eyes go out of focus, faces contort, necks crane to check out everyone who walks in the door and bodies jerk spasmodically in fits of manic laughter. It's like a Fellini-esque journey into the id.
Need to cultivate humility? Book a night at any drinking establishment in Sonoma County to be reminded that you're an insignificant speck of cosmic dust.
Now, I don't go to a gig at a pub or coffeehouse expecting Carnegie Hall, and I can certainly see the irony in the fact that I'm wishing folks would put aside their God-given right to expression so they can pay attention to mine, but there's a deeper point here.
Enjoying live music—even at the local level—can be relaxing, inspiring, nurturing and sometimes sexy. Music is an emotional art, and the space between focused performer and attentive listener can be charged with a rich range of feelings. If we can't concentrate on a four-minute song, can we hear the sounds of birdsong when we walk outdoors? Can we listen fully to what a friend is saying in a quiet moment? If we're never fully present in one place at one time, can food taste as sweet, or love feel as sweet, or the many simple pleasures of being human be known?
As the old railroad crossing signs said: "Stop. Look. Listen."
Jeff Falconer performs with acoustic power duo Jaydub and Dino. www.jefffalconer.com.Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.' We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write email@example.com.