CellphonesTo the lucky concert-goer standing five feet away from Sir Paul McCartney during his free concert down on Hollywood Boulevard who chose to experience this event through your phone screen while filming the show: you do realize Paul was a real, flesh and blood person, right? Not an avatar. Not a 3-D projection. He was really singing live, the band was really playing their instruments, and the sound coming through the speakers a combination of all the above as mixed by the sound engineer.

I ask because, well, it seems you and your fellow cellphone filmers have gotten so caught up in documenting every moment of your lives you are missing the stuff that is life (and blocking the view of those behind you). I’ll explain.

When you play back the video you took, see how close you were to Paul? Well he was that close to you. And he was looking at you, or trying to, cause that’s the thing with live rock’n’roll, it’s a dialogue between the band and the audience. The energy from the stage mixes with the energy from the crowd to produce a once in a lifetime musical moment. While Paul and Co. have played “Let It Be” hundreds of times, the sound that was formed that night, in that instant, will never be repeated. You had an opportunity to form a personal connection with one of the fuckin’ Beatles and help bend the musical molecules into magic, but noooo, you chose to stare into your bright shiny object.

I came of age back in the paleolithic era and spent my youth in Oakland Stadium attending the huge Day On The Green rock concerts put on by Bill Graham Presents. Not only did we not have cell phones, we didn’t have video screens. Just a band, a colorful set, and 60,000 sun-soaked revelers singing and dancing and connecting with the tiny specks down on stage. I don’t have cellphone footage of the shows, but when I look at the ticket stubs vivid memories flood back. I can smell the suntan lotion, feel the sweat of my bare legs on the plastic chairs, picture the exact spot my date pulled me close for a kiss when Foreigner played “our” song.

The grin on Mick Jagger’s face in his cherry picker on high, Keith’s sly smile as he moved the song into high gear back on earth. The exquisite feel of the sonic wave blasting through my body, all the while knowing my ears were about to pay the ear-ringing price. Most of all I remember moments with my friends, my gang. From our-pre dawn departure to the hours in wait – in line, in between sets, in the parking lot on our way out – we talked and joked and fought and made up. I wonder what my memories would be if instead we had pulled out our phones and spent this time staring into our bright shiny objects while tuning out our world.

A few years after my stadium summers I achieved my dream of working for Bill Graham Presents. One spring I got assigned as the Production Assistant in the Band production office for Paul McCartney’s shows at Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium, working with legendary Production Manager Gerry Stickells and his equally affable and talented wife, Sylvia. One day as the band finished up its sound check I stepped out of the production trailer for a quick break. I stood on the top step and watched the final stages of show prep in action and, yes, hoped to catch a glimpse of the cute Scottish iron worker I had a huge crush on. Just then Linda McCartney came bounding around the corner arm and arm with her son James. The two were locked tight in this loving embrace the power of which stays with me still. While Linda was famous for her family life she fiercely protected, as I watched the two wrapped up in this love I thought “that is one kick ass Mum.” If I had stepped out of the trailer to check my phone instead, a favorite memory would have literally passed me by.

To the lucky concert-goer standing five feet away from Sir Paul McCartney during his free concert down on Hollywood Boulevard, the technology we have today is a wonder and enables us to connect in a whole different way. But it has its time and its place. Should you be so lucky to score a prime seat to a fabulous show, put down the phone, meet the performer eye to eye, and create a memory that no technology can capture.

Photo by Josue Goge licensed under Creative Commons