Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Three Dog Night Teaches a Lesson About the Modern Economy

Mrs. Schnauzer and I recently took a walk down memory lane by attending a Three Dog Night concert in Birmingham. It turned out to be more than a musical adventure; it also helped put the modern American economy in perspective.

The concert was at the Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center on the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) campus. UAB is my former employer, and I hate to give the impression that I support anything there while it is run by President Carol Garrison's corrupt administration.

But Three Dog Night is one of my favorite bands from the late 1960s and early 70s, and the four remaining original members are all entering their mid 60s, so I figured I might not have too many more chances to see them.

Since Mrs. Schnauzer and I both have been cheated out of our jobs by political/corporate forces in Alabama, we thought long and hard about spending money for concert tickets. But we decided it would be OK to merge several years' worth of birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Days, and other special occasions into one concert--which was at a very nice venue by the way; some of the people running UAB suck, but the Stephens Center is a mighty fine place to watch a concert. Like almost all of the many good things about UAB, it has nothing to do with the Garrison administration--although I'm sure they'll try to figure out some way to screw it up.

I should report that Mrs. Schnauzer was being an awfully good sport about our special evening out. Before we met, she didn't give a rip about Three Dog Night--although she did associate them with that "strange song about a bullfrog." Her pop sensibilities run toward Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, The Alan Parsons Project, and (ahem) The Village People. She's also into high-brow stuff like Bach and Beethoven and Celtic folk songs--material that goes right over my head. If it wasn't on Casey Kasem's American Top 40, I probably don't know about it.

Anyway, I've turned Mrs. Schnauzer onto Three Dog Night over the years, so she put up a good front about being happy to go to the show. I think I hooked her by pointing out that two songs Birmingham's Taylor Hicks sang on American Idol--"A Change is Gonna Come" and "Try a Little Tenderness"--were originally covered by Three Dog Night, with Cory Wells on lead vocals.

The concert was good, and the sound in the Stephens Center is excellent. At 1 hour and 15 minutes, the show was way too short for my taste. Three Dog Night could have played for four hours and still not covered all the songs I wanted to hear. But hey, the guys are getting creaky, so I understood we couldn't have a marathon.

How did our concert turn into an economics lesson? Well, a few days after the show, I was inspired to pull out one of my cherished vinyl discs--Three Dog Night, Captured Live at the Forum--which was recorded on September 12, 1969, in Los Angeles.

Folks who now consider the Dogs an oldies act might not realize how seriously these guys could rock in their heyday. The eerie keyboard intro and the driving guitars and percussion on the live version of "Chest Fever" should be enough to please any headbanger.

During one break between songs on the live album, some fans near the back of the arena yell out that they are having trouble hearing. "You can't hear back there?" says one of the Three Dog Night singers. "See, you should have bought the $5.50 tickets in the front."

The crowd laughs, and the Dogs assure the folks in the nose-bleed seats, "We'll have some technicians check on that, OK?"

My immediate thought? Front-row seats were $5.50? At the Los Angeles Forum? For one of the biggest bands in America at the time?

Heck, you can't get a drunk to vomit on you for $5.50 at a major concert these days.

And we're not talking about a story your grandmother might tell about the Great Depression. I was 12 years old when that concert was recorded. Yes, I'm getting up there, but 1969 is not ancient history. Wilt Chamberlain and Warren Beatty, combined, had only slept with about 15,000 women at that point. And Warren's still going strong. (Wilt, we're sorry to report, has gone to that great STD clinic in the sky.)

In 40 years time, the price of a major concert ticket has increased by . . . 1,500 percent or so (assuming my math is correct).

No wonder we need Xanax in the water supply these days.

Think I'll put on the headphones, crank up Three Dog Night, and drift back to 1969.

Reality really does bite.

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