Last week I went for a pop-rock concert. After enduring two hours of Bengaluru traffic, waiting in a queue to enter the arena and using a disgusting port-a-loo, we jostled through clumps of people at varied states of inebriation to secure a spot that gave us a fairly decent view of the stage. It had been six years since my last concert so I was quite excited to be part of a throng and feel the energy that comes when thousands of strangers who share their love for good music are connected by their devotion to an artist.
Sometime after an hour, we heard the first strum of a bass guitar. The crowd roared and we were suddenly surrounded by hues of electric blue. Drums followed and a deep, coarse voice sliced through the air. My exhilaration, however, lasted about ten seconds. Almost every single person around me had his or her mobile phone up in the air, aimed at the stage or the wide projection screens around us. Amidst the stench of cigarette smoke, Redbull-vodka and fresh under-arm sweat, the magic died.
Throughout the brilliant one and a half hour performance, the rows of arms holding phones kept going up and down, creating new barriers to our line of vision. The glaring lights from mobile screens broke the darkness that usually wraps fans up into a unified state of elation. Tired of moving our heads about constantly to find the right gaps to see through, we gave up and moved back.
Concerts (rock and pop) are not meant to be physically comfortable experiences. You spend an unreasonable amount of cash on a ticket to go stand in a vast ground and wait for lord knows how long till a band or artist is ready. Sometimes you get lost in the crowd and end up spending half the night searching for your friends without any decent mobile network, sometimes you get groped so hard you’re left with a burning rage and no one to direct it at except a blur of faces, sometimes you end up sitting in a parking lot for double the time than the actual concert because of crappy venue infrastructure, sometimes you collapse due to extreme dehydration.
And yet I have always willingly and enthusiastically leapt into such nights, surrounded myself with maddened crowds, had my feet crushed to a pulp, fought with parents over broken curfews, borne the side-effects of nearly-shattered ear-drums for days. Because there is something phenomenal about screaming your lungs out with random people and feeling the resounding wave of a singer’s voice overpower you. And I can’t even begin to describe those first few seconds when a song that everyone has been waiting for begins to play – the pivotal point where anticipation translates to reality. Being part of this collective state of frenzy is what makes going to a chaotic concert worth it.
But after my night out last week, I can’t help but concede that we’ve lost the ability to savor live performances. People who insist on using their mobile phones to capture videos at a concert as not just being selfish and inconsiderate by obstructing views for those behind them, they’re losing out on what they have actually paid for – to be there. Last year at a Pretenders concert in Dubai, when fans used their phones despite being warned not to, lead singer Chrissie Hynde swore repeatedly, called them all c**ts before storming off halfway through the show. Beyonce once told a front-row fan, “I’m right in your face, baby. You gotta seize this moment, baby! Put that damn camera down!” Alicia Keys is so particular about her ‘no mobile phones’ policy that her concert organizers use Yondr, a company that supplies locked pouches that helps people take their phones in without using them.
Since the thriving feminist within me abhors referring to Chrissie Hynde’s reference to people as ‘c*nts’, I’ll go for a milder version – People are assholes. Despite artists so passionately insisting on creating ‘here and now’ experiences, why are we finding it so hard to disconnect? We’ve nurtured our pathetic obsessions to capture every facet of our existence – the food we cook or eat, books we read, movies we watch, places we explore- to construct a kaleidoscope of experiences before handing it over to others. We want to show them that we really are taking the ‘Carpe diem’ business quite seriously.
But even this, I can somewhat live with. What breaks my heart more is the possibility of a humanity that is losing faith in its memories. I’m seeing it all around me, the constant FOMO (Fear of Missing out) itch; the eager group sitting in a safari jeep ready with their cameras, people filming spectacular fireworks on New Years’ Eve, parents standing at recitals desperately zooming in on their children’s faces. We want to ascertain memorability through external devices and not with our own senses.
Some of my strongest memories have the oddest details imprinted so firmly in my head; the swirls in the rosettes on the chocolate cake I cut for my 9th birthday, how the creamy mushroom corn curry tasted the day I got my disappointing board results, the exact shade of maroon lipstick my mother wore on special occasions. Many such colorful pebbles sit in my mind. I never intended to hoard them, but there they are, resting and reflecting their stories every now and then, reminding me of the power of being present in a speck of time.
And then there are those I could not hold on to, like the first time my daughter rolled over. I’d been waiting for weeks for it to happen and when I saw her struggling on the side of her stomach, grunting impatiently as she kept trying to build a hinge for herself, I scrambled about for my phone. And tada- I got it! I watched her roll over through my iPhone screen and then spent the rest of the day re-playing it with pride. But here’s the thing, if I shut my eyes and think of that moment, try as I may, I can’t see her face.
In Moon Tiger, the 1987 Booker Prize winner by Penelope Lively, 76-year-old Claudia Hampton sets out to write a history of the world and her life’s meaning in it as she waits for death in a hospital bed. She recollects a cherished night with a lover and writes, “Crying not in grief but in wonder that nothing is ever lost, that everything can be retrieved, that a lifetime is not linear but instant. That, inside the head, everything happens at once.”
Unfortunately I belong to a generation that is striving more to validate itself than just be. And I’m part of this conundrum where we’re asking ourselves – is personal joy complete if it isn’t shared? I wonder if I’ll ever be able to climb a mountain, watch a magnificent sunset light up jagged peaks and not think about snatching it for the future or to tell the rest of the world – Look I was there!
And what recollections will I hold onto in my deathbed; will they be truly complete?
(Image credit: Unsplash)