Author: Zuniga, Nancy

Moments Remembered for the Wrong Reasons
I had watched, for the umpteenth time, a dreadful commercial that is being shown on TV ad nauseam, when I got to thinking about the way in which memory is often tied to that which is off-kilter, offensive, or just plain wrong. I consider the ad in question to be the second-worst commercial I have ever seen; It brought to mind the worst commercial I ever saw: a black-and-white number that assaulted my senses more than forty years ago. I saw it only once; It was so bad, so absurd and tasteless, that I suspect it was quickly pulled from the airwaves following viewer complaints. Over the years, literally thousands of commercials have flashed across the TV screen. Some were undeniably clever, perhaps even truthful, but they failed to stay with me for the long term. Yet that truly rotten ad of long ago sticks in my brain like broccoli in the teeth, as does the “second-worst” commercial that is currently bombarding the airwaves, I feel annoyed and offended as a consumer, yet I watch it as though I were witnessing a train wreck. It definitely gets my attention.

For those of us old enough to remember the 1974 Academy Awards, I honestly can’t bring to mind a single award-winner, but could we ever forget the naked streaker who ensured his two seconds of fame by dashing across the stage behind host David Niven and in front of millions of TV viewers? I can’t recall any of the football plays from the 2004 Superbowl, yet I am unable to strike from memory Janet Jackson’s so-called “wardrobe malfunction.” This may be a unique facet of the human brain; i.e., When things are running smoothly as they should, we tend to forget them no matter how good they are. But when something goes awry, it may be etched in memory forever.

I’ve been attending bluegrass festivals regularly for over twenty years now. Overall, the music and my experiences have been wonderful. But when I try to picture in my mind specific memories of bands onstage, the clearest images, with only a few exceptions, are of those moments that struck me as being out of the norm, and not in a good way. I can picture where I was sitting and how the band looked when the sound system royally screwed up for one band’s performance to a packed audience. I clearly recall the moment when I heard the leader of a well-known family band disrespect his wife in front of a large audience by telling her to shut up and let him do the talking. I’m picturing a very popular musician stopping a song shortly after it began and angrily berating her fellow-musicians for kicking off the song too fast. How well I recall the groans that were elicited when the fiddler with one of the most famous bands in bluegrass made a racially-charged remark to an audience that didn’t share his bigotry.

Of course, there have been some performances that stood out for the right reasons. I can still recall Jim Van Cleve receiving a standing ovation in the middle of “Lee Highway Blues”....the involuntary tears that came to my eyes when James King sang “Roy Lee”....Vern Williams acknowledging song requests called out by members of the audience....the way I cracked up the first time I heard one of Ron Thomason’s onstage monologues. So I do have some great memories of the positive stuff. Yet I know that there have been many, many more wonderful, breathtaking musical moments onstage that I cannot recall specifically and with the clarity with which I remember those rare moments of unpleasantness. I guess that’s okay. I keep coming back year after year, because what I do remember, from one festival to the next, is that I had a great time the year before. That has to be better than a performance being remembered in detailed clarity, but for the wrong reasons.
Posted:  8/7/2008

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