If you’ve been on stage, you’re likely to have had them. Those nights when something went terribly, terribly wrong. Whether the problem was brought about by a technical issue, illness or just a plain, old fashioned screw up, there are those times when we didn’t quite hit the mark and the show went into a tail spin that ultimately made you want to crawl into a dark corner and die.
The embarrassment of such an occasion can have you questioning whether you are actually cut out for the music industry at all and it can often lead to bouts of depression and anxiety. Thankfully for me, I’m not a world-renowned super star so any of the shows where something like this might have happened have been lost to time, to small audiences and have not been recorded or filmed to end up as a viral reminder on the interwebs that just won’t die. But for some of us, those moments can come back to haunt us time after time and for the biggest stars, who have built life-long careers in the public eye, it must be incredibly difficult to drag yourself out of bed the next day and face the onslaught of a not so adoring public.
My dad always used to say, “You’ve got to be bad in places before you can be good.” I agree with him whole-heartedly but what if you’ve been good in places and then, one night, without reasonable excuse, you are suddenly bad? The law of averages would suggest that the more you play live, the more likely it is to happen at some point and with the bulk of the population having an audio visual recording device sitting handy in their pocket, it doesn’t take much before your moment of embarrassment escapes the confines of the room and seeps its way to a permanent and heavily repeated presence in the ever-lasting ether. That’s gotta sting!
Case in point….
There were all kinds of excuses made for this one. They were no doubt reasonable but it didn’t save the band from copping a right, royal trolling for the performance and there’s a clear indication that the bigger the legend you are, the harder the fall from grace when something goes wrong.
We were all “amateur” performers once. (Some of us still are.) You could never expect anyone to strap on a guitar and hit the stage and be really good on the first time out. What you do expect however is that when you’ve had some twenty or so years at the top of the charts, that you’ll nail it most of the time. But even then, there’s going to be that one show that will suck for whatever reason and the internet will be relentless, unforgiving and non forgetting.
Major events seem to be the worst and, apparently, sporting ones seem to have such an unlucky reputation of destroying otherwise great performers that you’d think there would be no amount of money that would get a seasoned headliner to step near them. But, alas, they do. Our football grand finals have seen a string of big name entertainers crash and burn in the most horrible of ways. There were always going to be pitfalls in performing at such things. Let’s face it, it’s supposed to be about the game and the half-time entertainment is essentially an after-thought. Surely that must cross the star’s mind when signing the contracts to play. They couldn’t possibly think, given the historical evidence, that they were going to wake up in the morning after it and their careers will have had a major boost. I guess their bank accounts might, yes, I guess it’s an honour to be asked to play and it would have to give the old ego a bit of a padding but seriously?
(personal note: I actually played guitar with the lovely Mr Anderson on this very song once at a festival in Manly. It went down almost as well as it did here! The internet was in its infancy at the time. Mark Zuckerburg was probably in nappies, tweeting was something only birds did and the mobile phone was essentially only capable of making phone calls. Even that wasn’t something it did very well and it was certainly yet to be advanced enough to record video for uploading. I am eternally grateful for this.)
You just wouldn’t want to be “that guy”. And all of them have known from the first few bars of the first verse that things were going wrong. I can only imagine the sick feeling they must have had in their stomachs. Knowing full well that they just can’t stop and say, “Hang on. Let’s just take that again from the top.” It would be even worse to do so. The show must go on… even if it’s shit. So they’ve needed to carry on, all the while the bile is building up in the back of their throats. Their mind has turned from being excited about the show to praying for a lightning strike to take them out where they stand.
Somehow they manage to shrug it off, move on with their lives and their careers. Although, lets face it, most of the guys who play the footy grand finals are in the twilight of their musical life span and, although they are considered legends, their best moments are most likely behind them. Unfortunately these folk have forgotten the old adage: “Leave em wanting more”. I guess that’s the thing with being a star. We all have kind of been sucked in to the Hollywood myth that there’s a “happy ever after”. A fairytale ending. Movies all finish on the high point and rarely do we see the “what-happened-after” portion of the story. We see the characters ride off into the sunset. What happens when they get there? I can only assume serious sunburn. Stars shine for as long as they can and then they either die at their peak or they continue on with their lives in such a way that they pretty much end up just like us normal folk.
If you haven’t read this article: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/entertainment/doc-neeson-the-fallen-aussie-angel/story-e6fredpu-1226185397568 it will explain what I’m going on about here.
It kind of says to me that if you’re a superstar, perhaps you should join the “27 club”. (Disclaimer: I don’t really mean that. Dying young or committing suicide is never the answer to anything. If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, especially over last night’s performance, you should call the suicide prevention hotline, Life Line or at least your mum before doing anything stupid.) You should at least be prepared for the fact that you can’t always be at the top. Sooner or later there’s going to be a period that is AFTER you being at the top. You need to accept it and not try to claw back your former glory days. Instead you need to forge a new space that you can be happy in. It can obviously involve performing but you should definitely steer clear of trying to do the big things that can end up making you into a joke or a social pariah. The good news is that Lizottes is always looking for dinosaurs to play at their over-priced dinner shows so, Wendy Mathews and Johnny Diesel will still always be able to strut their stuff on the small stage to an ageing league of devoted old farts. If they’re smart though, they won’t take another swing at fame and fortune and stand in the middle of a footy field singing off key to a poorly amplified backing track of their greatest hit.
For the rest of us who have stardom still looming slightly out of reach, there’s still time for us to hit many career low points. Can we deal with them with an air of class or will we be stinging so badly from the experience that we’ll stick our instruments in a cupboard and not leave ourselves open to humiliation ever again? Getting back on the horse after such an event isn’t easy and the chances that we will repeat our poor performance just because we are so damned scared are pretty high. I know that there’s a song in my set list that I screwed up so badly once at a gig that every time it has come to doing it at subsequent shows, I break out in a cold sweat. As a result of that fear, it rarely goes well and, where possible, I try to convince the band to drop it from the show. But if the show consists of only one song, such as it does at the grand final half time, and it’s “that” song, you can be in for a world of hurt. And that pain might just hang around for a lot longer than you expect largely because people can get a great laugh out of a classic fail. Ahh, Schadenfreude! It’s all good when you’re on the right end of it!