Friday, October 28, 2005

Fluff Piece

Here is a little something to balance out the negativity behind my Earth comments.

I wrote myself a little note during the Death Cab show to look up the history of lighters being ignited and raised during a ballad and after a little searching around I found myself the answer on line as well as a little article about cell phones replacing the lighter at rock concerts.

Thank you Jewish World Review

Q: What's the significance of holding up lighters at concerts? I was reminiscing the other day about all the rock concerts I went to in the `70s. During certain songs, almost everyone in the audience held up a lighter. Why? — Beth King, Jacksonville, Fla.

A: Beth, it's entirely possible you and I crossed paths during that mellow period. Maybe it was at a concert featuring the Doobie Brothers or the Eagles or ... (I'm not really sure I should admit this, but) Styx.

A guy reading this on his deck in Florida is going, "Hey, I saw the Doobies!" And a Kentucky mom with two kids in high school is shouting from her kitchen table, "I went to three Eagles concerts in the `70s!" And a whole lotta hip young people having brunch on a patio in California are sputtering, "He paid MONEY to go to see STYX!?!"

Well, none of these acts — not even Styx — was responsible for showing rock's "lighter" side. (Get it?) And you kids can't get too cocky. It wasn't one of your newfangled acts of today like Sixty Cents, either.

It was Melanie, the huggable singer-songwriter from the `60s and `70s. She gave us the upheld lighter. Because of her, a disjointed concert crowd can be turned into one giant Bic clique. Every encore a butane refrain.

How it happened is a great story, which she told me recently on the phone. In 1969, Melanie Safka was a kid from Astoria, N.Y., who had been playing coffeehouses. But she had a hit with "Look What They Done To My Song Ma." And somehow, she managed to get invited to play Woodstock.

Sort of.

She was not exactly a top act.

She didn't even have a backstage pass. She had to hang out — WAY off in the mud — in a little tent. Now and then somebody would come by and yell "Melanie, you're on next!" And she'd get all fidgety. Then, they'd come back and say "Never mind. Someone else is next." This went on all day.

She developed a nervous cough. As she wondered if she'd ever go on, the sun went down. It began to rain.

THEN they sent her on.

To get to the stage, she had to walk across a plank. Like in a pirate movie. "I felt like I was going into a dark abyss," she told me.

She inched her way across the plank and found herself alone onstage in front of a half-million people. She was 22 years old.

"I was TERRIFIED," she said. Her fear was so palpable, she did the only thing she could do. She sat on a stool, and played.

And the most amazing thing happened.

The dark hillside in front of her began to slowly, elegantly light up. Tens of thousands of tiny flames began to appear.

"The announcer had said something — probably something dumb, maybe something inspirational — about how everyone should light a candle to keep away the rain," she said. "And they passed out candles. To me, it looked like the entire universe was lighting up."

The next day she wrote about the experience, composing her signature song, "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)." It sold a million records and the candle ritual became a routine at her shows.

Except fire marshals didn't find this groovy. Sometimes she even had to sign a contract that she wouldn't sing the song. (So she'd sing "Brand New Key" instead.)

But the Woodstock moment had been established. It was "flame on!" as a concert standard. All that was needed to cement this scene into rock ritual was a few decades of guys with mullets holding up lighters and bellowing "FREEBIRD!"

Here is a little bit about the transition to cell phones.

Have a good weekend.