Last weekend Atlas Sound — the pseudo-rock n’ roll solo project of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox — played a show in Minneapolis, the 7th stop on a mini-tour that spanned two continents and five states. At some point during the show some drunken yahoo yelled out a request for The Knack’s 1979 hit “My Sharona.” Cox (someone who has developed a reputation for his unstable personality and polarizing performances) obliged, covering the four-minute song for over an hour. Sally Hedberg, in a review of the show for Minneapolis’ City Pages, makes it clear that things quickly got uncomfortable:
The transition was stark and instant, as if Cox suddenly felt mocked or distrusting of the audience he had gradually opened dialogue with throughout the course of the night. He obliged to play the song, which at first was generally entertaining. But it morphed into something bizarre, a unending cover that rivaled the length of a Phish concert… Yet, “My Sharona” endured still, as did Cox’s increasingly awkward interactions with the audience. He asked people to take their clothes off. He shouted seemingly intoxicated defenses about his art. He simulated fellatio. Eventually, after inviting the audience onstage he seemed to get the picture that the show was over and bid his adieu, dedicating the show to “the death of folk music and the birth of punk.”
The performer-audience relationship is fraught with natural inconsistencies and inherent elements of antagonism: an artist is at once an exalted figure and a dependent figure, and, for some, the role of performer is not as important as the role of creator. At some level we expect a certain level of disdain from our finest creative-types: there is something noble about shrugging off popular taste and sticking with your guns. Why should they listen to anything that we tell them when we listen to everything that they tell us?
Bob Dylan (who said, “What good are fans? You can’t eat applause for breakfast. You can’t sleep with it,”) famously pissed off an entire folk festival by having the audacity to go electric, and the incident helped cement him as an legend, both as an American and an Artist with a capital A. Dave Chappelle once got mad at an audience during a stand-up performance, berating the crowd, “You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you’re not smart enough to get what I’m doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.” A year later he walked away from one of the most successful sketch comedy shows of all time, citing an instance where, while filming a sketch (the infamous pixie sketch), he felt that a member of the filming crew was laughing in a way that made him feel uncomfortable. “It was the first time I felt that someone was not laughing with me but laughing at me.”
Sometimes it’s worse than that. Kramer lost his shit in 2006. Last year an Odd Future show caused a near-riot in Detroit after fans started throwing bottles on stage and ended with a shirtless Tyler the Creator attempting to fight the one responsible. Seven years ago a basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons ended in an actual riot, the image of a crazed Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) rushing the stands now as iconic as anything American sports have ever provided. In Space Jam, if Michael Jordan lost the game to the Monstars, his punishment would have been to work at an amusement park on Moron Mountain. “You’ll be our star attraction,” Mr. Swackhammer, the proprietor of Moron Mountain tells Jordan. “You’ll sign autographs all day long. And play one-on-one with the paying customers. And lose. Do we have a deal?”
What Bradford Cox did is more interesting than eventful — mostly it’s funny, but also a reminder that a majority of social contracts are bullshit, and that we all tend to kind of resent the people who love us (“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member,” said Groucho Marx). There are so many subtle lines to be drawn everywhere, everyday, between everything and everyone, and sometimes it’s just easier to sit in a room and play “My Sharona” until all your friends leave you alone.