I didn't watch the Grammys -- I'm not even sure if they were on here -- but I did pick up some bits about it in the blogosphere starting with the supergroup performing "Golden Slumbers" with Paul McCartney. The guy from Foo Fighters, Joe Walsh, Bruce! All having fun and rocking the house down. The kind of performance that leaves the audience exhausted and begging for more. Then Adele blew the house down, and I read Jennifer Hudson did the same. How could they not? Wear a meat dress, show up in an egg, have the Pope as your date, roll around the floor in a wedding dress, -- heck! -- build a wall and float a pig across the stage: will all of that fly when you are a septuagenarian? Hell no! The music lasts, dammit!
Of course, those other sorts of stunts really aren't about the music, are they? They might cover a sore lack of musical talent, or they might be a desperate cry for attention, or they might be failed attempts at performance art, or smart critiques of whatever; but, mostly, they are about the spectacle. The spectacle starts from the moment the performer steps out of the limo and ends when they peel off the costume in the wee hours of the next dawn. It's the opposite of the blues-based authenticity that those rockers and soul-singers attempt. It's a full-on performance from beginning to end, and demands to be noticed.You gotta respect that kind of commitment, even if you don't like the end product.
I wish I had that kind of commitment, or even the ability and the nerve to go all-in on that kind of a performance. Alas, I have entered a profession that doesn't exactly lend itself to much spectacle. The closest an academic in history can get to spectacle is a PowerPoint presentation or a film clip -- or knitting during panels.
Still, can you imagine if historians did bring some spectacle to a conference, for instance? Imagine the audiovisual requests.
"Yes, I'd like a projector -- and a harness suspended from the ceiling, with guide wires, and a trapeze."
"My presentation requires a disco ball, and spotlights."
"Please provide laser beams and a gigantic fishbowl."
Or, you could roll out a red carpet and stalk in surrounded by big, bald body guards who would position themselves in front of the panel. Maybe you'd prefer hot [fill in your gender of choice] hanging on your arms like Hef's bunnies, as you present your paper -- or you could have hot [fill in your gender of choice] dancers doing the crotch-thrust dance behind you. (Me? I'd like to enter on a tightrope, wearing one of those microphone headsets, and lip sync my paper as I jumped up on the table and busted some Bob Fosse moves, then exit by being lifted into the rafters on a crescent moon.)
You could have lots of fun, depending on your specialty. How about can-can dancers? Or gas lights? Maybe vaudeville numbers between papers? Or have your paper written in iambic pentameter. Maybe puppets? A Cirque du Soleil type of performance overhead? Certainly at least a little dramatic music could be arranged, and sound effects. People would show up just to see what goofy shit presenters could come up with, and passers-by on vacation would want to know what was happening and try to muscle their way in.
Wouldn't that be fun?
Alas, I won't be twirling above the podium in tulle and fishnets; but, I admit that in both class and at conferences I do try to rock like these guys. After all, it is a spectale of its own brand: