Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How Big Is Too Big?

by Janis Patterson
I’m a Texan, so ‘bigger is better’ is part of my DNA… but, I’m discovering, only up to a point.
A week or two ago I was lucky enough to go to the final George Strait concert. The Husband is a rabid fan and I like him, too, which is rare for me and country singers. We knew this was going to be An Event, but nothing could have prepared us for what happened.
The concert was held in the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the same place where the Cowboys play football. It’s roughly the size of a small European country. Just getting to the parking lot was a trial – a journey that should have taken no more than 45 minutes took over 2 ½ hours – the last 20 minutes of which were spent going about 20 feet so we could turn into our parking lot. We were shuttled to the stadium, then frisked and wanded by security (no purses or backpacks allowed unless they were transparent) before we were allowed to enter the building.
After standing in line for 45 minutes plus for the privilege of paying $35 each for t-shirts, we finally started the trek to our seats. I tell you, maneuvering through a crowd like that gives me new respect for salmon!
We had very decent seats – second balcony, second row. Down on the playing field there were about 1,000 folding chairs set up (and packed!) around the revolving stage on the 50 yard line on which these little ½ inch tall people performed. Yes, it was that far away. I wonder if the people up in the gods could even see the stage!
Not to worry, though – I doubt if there was a seat in the place that didn’t have a direct sightline to at least one of the multitude of tv screens. Yes, multitude, and in all sizes. The biggest appeared to have just about the same square footage as a 70s tract home. So – we had our choice – anything from a ½ inch George Strait on stage all the way up to a George Strait face the size of Godzilla on a tv screen.
I love music, and love to hear all the nuances of it. Good luck there. The sound system was cranked up so high that the sound was hopelessly distorted. It had to be that way, I guess, because of the crowd. I can understand – somewhat – the screaming during applause, but for the life of me I cannot see why people pay the equivalent of a fairly good-sized car payment for a seat to hear an artist and then scream while he’s singing. It makes no sense. It does, however, make headaches.
All of that was cream, however, compared to getting out of the place. We had maps of the area and had plotted a reasonable way of getting out and getting home. Good luck! The police had blocked off streets seemingly at random and sent clogged lines of cars off in torturous directions. We rebelled, and as soon as we could get off the main street we dodged through secondary and tertiary streets until we finally found the southern interstate. This route took us approximately 20 miles out of the way, but traffic there was moving, and there was a much smaller chance of being surrounded by a bunch of concert drunks. Yes, the beer (small - $8) and the margaritas ($15) were flowing freely. Two couples in the row ahead of us had at least 6 margaritas apiece. (I think those were the prices – we didn’t buy any!)
So what does this have to do with writing?
The concert was all out of proportion. The charm of country music is the words (which were lost in the noise) and the music (distorted) and the down-home folksy ambiance (in a concert with a record 104,7?? attendees? Come on…) As in so much of life, it – and we – have lost the human proportion.
Think about it. Most thrillers aren’t about people, they’re about nations and giant corporations and saving/destroying the world. Yes, usually there’s a lone hero who is either an impossibly perfect standard of beauty and bravery with knowledge of just about everything (Jack Bauer, anyone?), or an impossibly average man who rises to the call and eventually reaches an impossibly perfect standard. He’s usually at least good-looking, too. In both mysteries and thrillers there is all too often what I call a Moriarity villain – each time he is vanquished he manages to get away, escaping things that would annihilate a normal person and coming back again and again until it becomes both excruciating and ridiculous. Think Red John on The Mentalist. I personally call it lazy writing.
One of the reasons romance is so popular is that it is human-sized – one man, one woman, a happy ending. Cozy mysteries, too – normal people solving a normal-sized crime in a normal world. These storylines are something to which most people can relate. Country-gobbling corporations or nations setting to enslave the world are – for me at least – too big. I can’t become emotionally or empathetically involved in something set to such a gargantuan scale.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for such large-stage fiction. Or, for that matter, gigantic, record-breaking concerts. Some people enjoy it. I just hate to see it become so prevalent that it sometimes threatens to choke off less strident and overreaching stories.

Or am I all wrong? No matter. I’ll still take things – concerts, storylines or whatever – that are human-scaled.


Susan Oleksiw said...

I haven't been to any Texas-sized concerts but years ago my husband and I paid $100 each for tickets to a play my mother-in-law wanted to see. For $300 we sat way up in the balcony and could barely see, but we could hear and the voices were lovely. I wouldn't do it again. I felt like a an animal being shunted from one holding pen to another. The elevator was almost the end of me (and everyone else--weight limits are posted for a reason). Good post.

Kathleen Kaska said...

I've been to my share of Springteen concerts, paid big bucks to get as close as possible, and loved every second, but that was a long time ago. Now I prefer my Springteen at home, listening to CDs, or on the trail with my iPod. I agree about "saving-the-world" mysteries. I used to read those, too. Today, I read and write the cozy and traditional mystery; small scale and at bit more intimate. Nice post, Janis.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Susan. The appeal of monster-sized crowds disappeared when I became mature. (Mature, mind you, not old.) There was a time when I enjoyed jostling shoulders in a packed football stadium. Now, I prefer watching games on TV, stretched out in a recliner, with the joys of instant replay, pause, and fast forward. The only time I want a crowd is at my book signings.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I also agree with you, Susan. I'm not into huge concerts or huge anything. And I do like a more cozy type of mystery where the characters matter more than the action.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

This is why I stay home. Price gouging hurts. Interesting post.

Andrea Cooper said...

I like the smaller concerts too. At least at a country concert you don't have to worry about the pit (were people can get trampled from the craziness). Great post. Google+

Donis Casey said...

I agree totally that an intimate story is much more moving than one with gigantic noise and sweep. As for concerts, my poor ears can't take it anymore.

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Janis, I applaud you for making these observations.
It never occurred to me that these giant concerts
had so much in common with the large concept
suspense/thriller books! Thanks for the wonderful
words about cozy mysteries. Those are my favorite,
and that's why I write that kind!

Irene Bennett Brown said...

I so agree with you, Janis! Thanks for giving us your experience in a very interesting post.

Sydell Voeller said...

No, I don't think you're wrong at all. I love the smaller more focused stories that don't ramble all over the landscape.

Angela Drake said...

I agree. That's why as an entertainment writer I prefer the smaller venues Texas is famous for and the intimate house concerts.

Give me intimacy... in any genre and I'm a dedicated reader.

Carol Hutchens said...

I agree, Janis. I was so excited about going to an Elvis concert, but the reality of that experience almost lost him a fan. Same thing happened when we went to see the Eagles. CDs for me, please.
Red John, the worst story line ever, caused me to stop watching one of my favorite shows.
Good post.

Joan Reeves said...

Last huge concert I attended was the first Eagles Reunion Tour. Held at Rice Stadium, and there wasn't an empty seat. So much fun. I love concerts, but, you're right. It sure is a hassle getting to them and getting away from them. I also agree with you that the human scale of romance and cozy mystery is very appealing. My characters aren't out to save the world. They're just trying to save each other.

Sparkle Abbey said...

Great post! I've given up on the large concerts where you don't really get to experience the music. I do think you're right that we love the human aspect of romance and cozy mysteries. Something to think about...

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I've never done those kind of concerts--really loud music hurts my ears and I don't like big crowds. Great post.

Claire said...

You said it so well, Janis. We do seem to have lost perspective and your take on the concert brings things into focus very nicely.