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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You Got Me Feeling Alright (Still)

Consider Mr Pickett in 1968.



This is before my salad days, but I know all about it. This was always my favorite Wilson Pickett song. It's been awhile, but I think this is one of those songs I can play on all the power trio instruments, and sing. It's just a laundry list, as we used to call such lyrics; you can make up any lyrics you can't remember, really. It's not a complicated piece of business.

Look at what's going on there. It's pandaemonium, and it's very, very, real.

Now, that sort of frenzy is aped at all sorts of performances nowadays, and it's a total and utter fraud. Mildewed old rock stars are like Fortune 500 companies, and travel around like combination software salesman/haemophiliac princes. There's a checklist of enthusiasms they and the audience run through that is as stilted and effete as any opera crowd ever was. I can hear Mick Jagger going through the list in his head now: OK, Bic lighters, (did we get a cut of those?) leave stage for 1.5 minutes, return to applause, focus group says play Angie as encore to push iPod sales, point to spot in audience where person might be, leave stage, drink Evian, wait 2.5 minutes, do Satisfaction as tie-in for Zune rollout, smile towards left boom camera for Radio Shack spot or we don't get the royalty on the frisbee/remote control knock-off giveaway. When Keith stubs out the cigarette, that means the plane is ready and we can screw.

Let me clue you in on something. In the Wilson Pickett video, when the woman in the To Sir With Love jumper and the legs the cameraman gets interested in --a lot-- whispers in Wilson's ear while he's trying to sing, she's not running down his stock portfolio or giving him directions to the nearest wi-fi zone so he can check his e-mail to see if his Bentley is out of the shop or asking him if he'll sign an autograph she can sell on e*bay tomorrow.

Every town he goes in, indeed.

I've rarely succumbed to that sort of reckless abandon as an audience member after I started performing. I don't know how to act in an audience, really, as once you face the other way in an entertainment venue, you always feel a little funny facing the way the audience faces again. But the musicians on the stage are the ones who should be in control, really; it's the audience that should get wild. I see Donald Dunn playing the bass there, maybe the most ubiquitous bass player after Motown's James Jamerson, and he keeps banging out that cascading hypnotic riff over and over, and lets Wilson surf on the top of his wave. They all let the madness crash up against them like flotsam at a shipwreck, but they know they must keep going. You have to keep stoking the furnace, you can't stop to warm your hands.

They're in control. Of the uncontrollable. That wild scene was very real, and it's gone now-- because the context of being straitlaced all day long, all week, then letting your hair down on Friday has been diluted quite a bit. We're all rock stars all the time now.

I was born too late for Wilson Pickett in his prime. But that wild scene captured on the video lasted for decades. I watched it recede during the 1980s, as the population aged and the clubs emptied out. Such things are bound to either pass or become a staid predictable industry.

I'm a little sad for those still younger than I, that never rode that musical bike without a helmet even once.

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