Lighten Up Part Six - You and the Night and the Lightbulbs
Posted by James Ellis on April 03, 2017 . 0 Comments
Q: How many bassists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Five-one to do it and four to beat back all the guitarists who are trying to elbow him out of the spotlight.
A: None. The keyboardist does it with his left hand.
A: It doesn't matter. Nobody will notice anyway.
A: Just one, but the guitarist has to show him first.
I think I mentioned in my last blog that I was a professional musician during the Disco Era. I still am a professional musician, composer and music producer in my other life. You can get an idea about that life from my really ‘long in the tooth’ website (due for an imminent overhaul) at www.jimellismusic.com.
Even though I do primarily modern scoring for films and commercials using all of the palettes available these days to the working composer including orchestral, electronic, jazz, EDM, etc., I began my musical career as a rocker and I remain one today, both in my heart and in the way I play the piano.
I mention that again this week because writing about the Glitter Ball reminded me of the now familiar phenomenon that evolved, from the simple inspiration of the spinning mirror ball, into the mega wizardry that became….. the “Light Show!!”
Modern light displays are impressive presentations of ‘state of the art’ lasers, arc lights, spot lights, flood lights, cans, led’s of every size, hd videos, giant screens, zillions of smaller screens, screens with zillions of lights. All of these elements and more dance in and out with one another to a complex, dazzling effect, so tightly interwoven that only a computer can actually perform the show. The movement, color and flashing patterns, and their effect upon the human brain in Party Mode, are too complex to properly explain.
Given the technological advances over the last few decades, we are already used to such dazzlement and barely notice, just accepting that it is part of the large show format, which it is. A person from a simpler culture attending a Lady Gaga concert, however, would almost certainly succumb to epilepsy and hallucination. [citation non-existent] :)
I remember very clearly my first exposure to a big league light show.
It was in a nightclub in Yokohama Japan that catered to US servicemen on R and R from the Vietnam War. My BFF John Snyder (check out Artist House website and Loyola College in NO) and I had put together a jazz-rock band with three girl singers in order to make a little money around North Carolina and help with the music school costs. (UNC- Greensboro -Go Spartans! Great music school..)
The summer before, we had won a tour of Europe, playing in nightclubs that were run for the benefit of US servicemen. One of the benefits of the clubs’ being on foreign soil was that gambling, mostly slot machines, was legal. Even though the machines were set to pay back a lot more than those in Vegas, the organization that ran the clubs made so much money that they could get pretty much whomever they wanted. The Spinners had the tour just ahead of us. When they wanted a young American rock band to tour, they held auditions. We won, after all, we had 3 gorgeous, young, girl singers, who knew how to bring it. The next year they hired us to go to Japan, no auditions necessary.
Let me set the stage. The nightclub we were going to in Yokohama was a well funded, really nice facility in the heart of the club district and its mission was to entertain US servicemen seeking retreat from a bloody and horrible daily existence. As far as I and everyone else was concerned, they could retreat as far as they wanted to…. and they did.
As a result, the club had a cutting-edge light show, for the time, and trust me, Marines, soldiers, seamen et al in Party Mode REALLY LIKED IT!!
Part of Party Mode for our boys (and many others) in those days included the consumption of various hallucinogenics … they were taken in myriad dosages that resulted in everything from a nice buzz to ‘tripping your brains out’. In any of those cases, the brain was primed for sensory input, especially visual stuff.
Anyway, our first day/night there, they set up our stuff on the ample stage, we did a sound check to a basically empty house and went back to our rooms to get ready for the night’s show. Getting ready for us in those days involved the ingestion of a reasonable amount of alcohol, but not of the harder things, as we travelled through many borders and checkpoints etc., plus we weren’t just a ‘band', we were a ‘show' and that required that you pay attention. None the less, this opening night of the tour we were ready to play.
We took our places behind the velvet curtain, silently tuning and listening for our introduction…the place was bulging at the seams and already rocking… we knew it was going to be good.
Finally, the mc introduced us, we counted off our first song of the Asian Tour and launched into “Sunshine of Your Love” - thank you, Jimi Hendrix…. They were so ready…. we however were quite not as ready for what greeted us…we were used to cheering Party Mode servicemen, but we were just holding on to our sanity as the mind-blowing light show that the house had put together fried our young impressionable brains…. playing throbbing, flashing color in rhythm and context WITH THE SONG THAT WE WERE PLAYING LIVE! It is a credit to our nascent professionalism that we carried on and soon began a very real dialogue with the lighting guys and the music.
That was really impressive. In addition to the latest coloured lighting was the first light show video screen that I had ever seen and it produced things like this:
As tame as these images look today, in their time they blinked and oozed and flashed in compelling and mind-melting ways…It was more than just entertainment…in conjunction with a sudden look into the devastating effects of the war and how different reality was from what we were being told, it was for some of us the first ray of understanding that there might be a LOT of things besides light shows that we didn’t know about…. and worse… lots of stuff we didn’t even know that we didn’t know about and some of it was bound to be important…we needed to know more about everything…. that night signalled the beginning of a lifelong passion that is very worth having.
Needless to say, we felt like a real rock band that night for sure. It was our sincere pleasure to provide a little respite from what the audience knew was waiting back there for them…. our pleasure indeed.
Oh, did I mention that I was in love with one of the singers? It was a magic summer…