I never imagined that listening to music would harden me into a criminal. But here I am, a renegade pirate sailing an outlaw ship on a wave of sound, striking fear into the hearts of strained metaphors everywhere. For I am now, unofficially and illegitimately, a bootlegger.
To keep the feds off my back, I won’t go into details except to tell you that I recorded full audio from both Neil Young + Promise of the Real shows in Telluride last month. From the pit, just left of center stage, on a recording application cleverly concealed within an iPhone 4.
Look, if it makes any difference to you, I didn’t do it to get rich. Even if I sold the tape at ten bucks a head to everyone in the audience — which I totally did not attempt to do — I would still not recoup what I spent on a concert T-shirt.
So why did I do it? I did it to capture the experience of hearing The Man (not to be confused with “the Man”). I did it for the lifetime bragging rights. I did it because I enjoy listening to live music from state-of-the-art sound systems, only at home and in garbled facsimile. I did it for the only reason a pirate does anything, excepting doubloons or wenches or eye patches or notoriety: because I didn’t figure I would get busted.
Between my disguise (a plaid flannel shirt) and the all-weekend wrist band I obtained on the down-low in exchange for a ticket, getting into the venue and avoiding detection from the Man (not to be confused with “The Man”) were the easy parts. But to record my first full-length bootlegs, I still had to overcome significant challenges. I’d say, at a rough estimate, I had about one significant challenge for every beer sold on the premises.
Now I am a bit of a relativist. I think there is no wrong way to enjoy a concert, so long as that enjoyment does not involve arriving at showtime and wedging your three beers into the already-quite- intimate space around those of us who waited in line for hours to earn our prime seats. To fight for these “seats,” by which I mean “standing room so sardined that your back hurts before the opening number,” you’d almost have to be the kind of person who pays a $125 cover to get drunk on $10 beers.
However, one’s magnanimity wears off when one is attempting to preserve history on an iPhone. When one is striving to perfect the art of bootlegging on one’s first try, one is less enamored with screaming, yelling, jostling, catcalling, Freebirding, and getting pushed out of the way so you can buy three more beers since (spoiler alert!) you spilled your first three.
In regular concert-going life, one doesn’t remember the weeble who wobbled a beer on one’s shoes, or the brah who picked a fight because “his buddy is up there somewhere” and one wouldn’t let him cut through, even though one grew genuinely afraid of leaving the venue on an EMT’s arm. But when one is bootlegging, one records every little peep from the audience, and one wants to remember Neil Young, dammit, not the way one sounded while yowling along with Neil Young.
The whole project was being shot to pieces before my very ears. My bootleg would not be a triumph of piracy and outlawery. It would be a testament to the crowd, the plebes, the people who are not true “fans” because they don’t enjoy a concert the exact same way I do.
Midway through the first show, Mr. Young pulled out the electric guitar and delved deep into an extended jam. The song was longer than some bands’ entire reunion tours. The song ran longer than a TV series on Fox. The song was so long that I saw a man leave his wife in the pit, return with a beer, and successfully salvage his marriage. And the song was glorious. It harmonized me with the universe, resonated with the cores of the mountains on every side, and defied further figurative language. It was worth the price of admission, plus the T-shirt.
And it made me forget all about my bootleg. I was there, completely there, completely present, completely alive while the song lasted.
I listened to the recording after the show, and yeah, it sounds like I taped it with a tin can and a piece of string. But it springs my memories of the show. In all the noises, I remember the alpenglow of the opening numbers, the awe of the epic jam, the guy next to me peeing on the ground. I’ll hope for a live album of the music someday. For now, I have the awareness of having experienced that moment.
And one final note to the Recording Industry Association of America: you need not worry about anyone else hearing this tape. Somewhere in the middle, I started singing along.