Great Moments In Onstage Banter

November 24th, 2007at 11:48am Posted by Eli

“You forgot the words, they’d been changed, you fool. … Honey? Who’m I talkin’ to?”

Slate has a story on some… interesting onstage moments.

All Elvis-heads, for example, remember with sorrow the night of June 21, 1977, when the King, opening a show in Rapid City, S.D., got lost in the spoken word section of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” A ghastly piece of footage: Elvis is six weeks from death, heavy-faced and desolate in his white sunburst jumpsuit. A choir croons behind him, repeating the song’s melodic motif, bearing him aloft on soft pulses of seraphic cheese even as his eyes close and his sweat runs like tears: “You forgot the words, they’d been changed, you fool. … Honey? Who’m I talkin’ to?” Elvis is in deep, deep trouble, dying on his feet. Fumbled jokes, an abortive sense of interior monologue – the colossal solitude of the man seems to thicken the air around him. “And now the stage is bare, and I’m standing there, without any hair. … Huh, huh. … Ah, the heck with it.” As if from a mile away, the audience titters.

Similarly previewing their own end were the Sex Pistols at San Francisco’s Winterland, less than a year later, caterwauling their way through the Stooges’ “No Fun” in what turned out to be their last show. Johnny Rotten – hunch, rodent glare – is at the end of different kind of rope. Three years into the kamikaze fiasco of this band, his exhaustion and disgust have hit epic levels. “No fun, my babe, no fun. … Oh bollocks, why should I carry on?” To his right, the soon-to-be-extinct Sid Vicious is playing his bass like he’s thumbing somebody’s eye. Clonk! Thwonk! “This is no fun,” coughs Rotten. “It is no fun at all. … No fu-un!” The song, and the band, collapse into history. “A-haha! Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Good night!”


Altamont may have been a disaster for Mick Jagger, whose effete pleas for order (“Cool out, my babies!”) went unheard, but anyone who’s seen the Maysles Bros. documentary Gimme Shelter knows that it was a shining rhetorical hour for Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner. As his lead singer falls beneath the blows of vigilante bikers, Kantner loses neither his head nor his sense of humor. “Hey man,” he offers into the mic, his voice only slightly constricted by anxiety, “I’d like to mention that the Hells Angels just smashed Marty Balin in the face and knocked him out for a bit. I’d like to thank you for that.”


In a bootleg recording made at a 1972 concert in Frankfurt, Germany, dark blue troubadour Leonard Cohen can be heard growing suddenly depressed at his own depression. “I have been noted for my quiet songs,” he murmurs, “and for my melancholy and solemn atmosphere. But I don’t care if this concert turns into a riot. Because, you know, I can’t go along with this, ah, pretence any longer.” The crowd, devoutly hushed, seems somehow unripe for insurrection. Returning with a sigh to his music, Cohen strikes a morose half-chord on his guitar and is further dejected by some supportive applause and a single whoop of recognition. “You couldn’t possibly know what song that is,” he says wearily.

I particularly like the Leonard Cohen one. He sounds like Marvin The Paranoid Android.

Entry Filed under: Weirdness

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