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Peter Frampton and the Vandalization of a Memory

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PETER FRAMPTON
Kevin Winter via Getty Images

Earlier this week, rock guitar icon Peter Frampton grabbed headlines by standing up to a couple of fans at his Carmel, Indiana concert who had ignored his pleas to not record video during the show. You may have heard about this... but of course you didn't see anything about it. That's because Frampton destroyed the evidence.

In the process, he contributed to an ongoing battle between stage performers and the paying fans who want to take their picture, one that has exploded with the advent and proliferation of phones that can not only shoot pictures, but also upload them for a global audience in a matter of seconds. Frampton's blatant vandalism and apparent unwillingness to perform without micromanaging audience conduct is but the latest example of musicians, comedians and other performers accepting fans' money but not their desire to capture a memory. The result has been a change in the concert experience, one that allows the continuation of fans' disrespectful behavior toward each other but all but criminalizes it when shifted toward the stage.

According to a news report of the incident, audience members had been warned against using camera flashes or recording video of the show, yet were not told why. When a pair of fans blatantly disregarded this request, Frampton did what any self-respecting nearly senior citizen would do: he acted like a child. First turning his back on the audience -- because the best way to not reward two people is obviously to make the rest of the audience pay the price -- the guitarist then somehow managed to convince the guilty parties to hand him their phone, which he then launched into the rafters behind the stage.

Hey buddy, I don't care if someone tries calling you later because someone in your family is having an emergency, you don't deserve to have a phone. Why? Because Peter Frampton said so.
Frampton's reluctance to be recorded is unclear. The guy performs for a living, and was yet uncomfortable being in front of a camera? Perhaps he was concerned that fans would make money on his music, but really, is there that much market demand for cell phone video footage of a 64-year-old guitarist playing the same songs he's been performing for decades? Maybe he didn't want to see people recording his shows because he is easily distracted by fans doing anything other than sitting still -- this is, after all, the same guy who halted a 2011 San Diego concert long enough to lambast a fan for simply yelling out a song request.

A message posted by Frampton on his Facebook page directs readers to a blog written by a fan who was there, which he says explains his decision to ruin someone's personal property without warning. A pre-concert request may have made clear that fans were not invited to record the show, but presumably no mention was made of the consequences of ignoring the request: having your phone stolen and destroyed, in the process losing personal photos, contacts, text messages and other unrecoverable data.

Frampton is not alone in promoting what has become a mantra among many performers: no video. Some have gone even a step further, outlawing photography altogether. Fans attending Bjork's concerts last year were greeted with signs announcing that all picture-taking would be prohibited. Security guards at a 2011 Chris Cornell concert were not only telling people to not take pictures, but also forcing offenders to delete whatever photos they had taken on the spot. And Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst doused an amateur photographer and his camera with water for daring to take pictures during one of that band's 2013 performances. Durst and Frampton are alike not only for their penchant for destroying the personal property of fans who paid to see them, but also in being delusional enough to honestly believe that their performances might be somehow ruined by fans hoping to record their experience.

After soaking the paying fan, Durst mocked him in front of the crowd for being "too busy" taking pictures to enjoy the show. A pre-recorded message at Bjork's tour stop in L.A. last year, meanwhile, explained that photos would be prohibited because the singer wanted fans to give her their full attention, so as to not miss anything. Thanks, but as full-grown adults who are also paying customers, we should not be told how to experience the concert we're attending. When you go to the grocery store to buy a head of lettuce, the cashier doesn't tell you how to use it; that's up to the buyer. So too should be the concert experience.

Is it OK for fans to hold their cameras high in the air throughout an entire concert, blocking the view of others? Of course not. But is there really any harm in discreetly shooting video of a concert you have paid to attend? If performers are going to outlaw photography and videos, why not forbid the sale of alcoholic beverages? How about requesting that fans not hold conversations with each other while the concert is going on? Surely many of us have had far more concerts ruined by annoying drunk fans, or by people who would rather talk than watch the show, than by someone taking a picture or recording a little bit of video. Performers have a lot of nerve capitalizing on fans' desire for a memory of a concert by charging $45 for a T-shirt, yet forbidding them to capture one for free.

Musicians should also realize there is a great deal of value in not only allowing, but in fact encouraging, photos and video. Concert attendees who want to post a picture of their experience to their favorite social networking site are getting performers' names out there, which is particularly beneficial to people like Frampton, Durst, and others who would probably be getting very few social media mentions otherwise. Publications like Spin routinely feature fan-shot concert videos, which provide even broader exposure for a singer or band. And fans in parts of the world where a band isn't performing can still watch them play in concert via video, which isn't going to push record sales and downloads any direction but up.

Plus, there is historical value. It is perhaps fitting that Frampton's destructive outburst came during the same week that The Who openly solicited fans for any bootlegged material they may have from any of the group's performances since 1964. The group hopes to celebrate its 50th anniversary with long-lost, hidden or even forgotten material, and recognizes that its fans may have been doing back then what they want to do now -- save a photo or recording for posterity's sake. The time that The Who pulled a fan from the crowd to play drums when Keith Moon passed out during a show? Caught on video, thank you very much.

Hey performers, people want to take your picture -- deal with it. Comedian Aziz Ansari is among the few who seems to understand: at the start of his standup performances, he tells fans he does not want them to take photos once the show gets started, but invites them to shoot as many as they want for the first several minutes he is on stage. This approach would seem to solve the problem on both ends, if only more would adopt it.

It's not that the Frampton Two should have been allowed to blatantly break the rules or distract fans around them by being loud and obnoxious; it's that they, and all concert fans, should not be subjected to such rules to begin with, especially when there's not even a good reason for them being in place. If they are distracting other paying fans, then yes, picture-taking fans should be asked to stop, but otherwise ticket-buyers should not be told they cannot shoot photos or video at concerts. If you can't concentrate on playing your guitar because someone has their phone out, maybe you don't belong on stage. Peter Frampton, you may have been a big deal in the 1970s, but if you're going to charge fans to come to your concerts, give them a bunch of rules to follow, and then steal and break their personal property, well baby, we don't love your way.