Thursday, February 27, 2003


by Wayne Robins

During 25 years of attending concerts and club dates professionally, my greatest fear was to be trapped in a fire like that which killed 97 people at The Station in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

In theaters, whenever possible I would always request an aisle seat. In clubs, I'd generally stay in the back, or at the bar, rather than in a crowd or at a table near the stage. At arena shows, I'd opt for the seats in an upper level for fear of being trapped in a mob on the floor. Some places still felt unsafe...I knew, or was pretty sure, that the emergency exits would be locked and sometimes chained. Keeping people from sneaking in is a priority over letting those in danger get out represents, to me, the typical club promoter mentality.

Regarding the Great White tragedy, a friend with a band based in Providence. R.I. writes: "It remains to be seen what the fallout will be exactly - new safety regulations, indictments, who knows. it is a big mess and very frightening - we've played that club a number of times."

But will things change? Perhaps in a state like Rhode Island, which is small enough for the governor, the state legislature, licensing and investigatory bodies to give the tragedy their undivided attention. The immediate reflex is to focus blame. It seems in this case, a series of spectacularly awful "what ifs?" occurred in irresistibly quick sequence to create the disaster. Great White and its management either had or didn't have verbal or other permission to use their incendiary devices; the club did or didn't exceed licensed occupancy limits. The culprit, the New York Times reports today, may well have been a highly flammable soundproofing material used on the ceiling, walls, even exit doors of the club. The material was not only not flame-retardant: it was an easily activated flame accelerator. In this case, it was as if gasoline (or one of its chemical relatives) was literally poured onto the fire.

The sad fact is that maximum fan safety has always been the lowest priority of concert promoters and club owners, because it's the easiest, least visible way to save a buck. Such skewed priorities may have been evident in the Chicago nightclub fire just a few days earlier, in which nearly 30 clubgoers were asphyxiated or were crushed to death in a panic to exit after security guards...Security guards!--used pepper spray to break up a fight between some WOMEN on the dance floor.

One of the owners of the Chicago club comes from one of the city's prominent black families, was close to former Mayor Harold Washington, is very tight with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and is son of a former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King.

You can't miss the irony: Dr. King lived and sacrificed his life to stop white authorities from using tear gas and pepper sprays on peacefully protesting black people. And here's the so-called security team using pepper spray on its own people to keep a dance floor fight from getting out of hand. It will be interesting to know the size and demeanor of the Chicago security team, evidently so overmatched in size and strength by these fighting women that they had to resort to Bull Connor--or Saddam Hussein--tactics. President Bush says that one of the increasingly multiple reasons the United States is going to to war in Iraq is because Saddam uses poison gas on his own people. If that's the reason, the government should also be preparing to invade Chicago.

(c) 2003 Wayne Robins, all rights reserved.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Conventional wisdom, before and after Grammy Awards:

Norah Jones
Before: Promising and likeable young jazz pop musician with great future prospects.
After: Overrated, overpraised one-hit-wonder.

Bruce Springsteen:
Before: "The Rising" by this well-loved but long-in-the-tooth troubadour fell far short of greatness.
After: Brooooce! You were robbed!

Fred Durst:
Before: Semi-articulate knucklehead.
After: Semi-articulate knucklehead.

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