Taking the short view

Special to The Times

How many times has this happened? You're at a club waiting to see the latest buzz band. You've bought a drink, checked out the scene, schmoozed a bit with your friends.

As show time nears, you scope out a place to stand, close enough to feel intimate, with a relatively unobscured view of the stage. Then, just as the lights dim, a linebacker with better taste in music than you might expect barrels his way through the crowd and takes up residence directly in front of you, like a human eclipse. He's tall, he's broad and he can't understand why no one wants to look directly at him.

So I ask: Just what is it with tall people?

I review concerts for a living and, as might be expected, I go out to clubs a lot. But more often than not, instead of seeing a performance, I find myself in the position of judging the haircuts of the folks in front of me.

At times it seems as if every concertgoer in the Greater Los Angeles area is the freakish spawn of the Incredible Hulk and Geena Davis. I go to the House of Blues, Spaceland, the Troubadour or Roxy, but end up in the land of the giants.

If you think I'm exaggerating, check out the crowd at the next concert you attend. See that bunch of lanky guys with elongated necks taking their sartorial cues from Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore -- T-shirts promoting bands that no one has heard of and shaggy haircuts by their girlfriends? Now, notice where they've decided to decamp: shoulder to shoulder, right up front and center.

Take it from one who knows: As a rule of thumb, the shorter the stage, the taller the crowd. It's frustrating. I can only catch glimpses of the White Stripes, Frank Black or even David Gray, like snatches of light through the wind-swept branches of a tree.

And if I do find a comfort zone, a seam providing a view of the band, what happens? Nature, as we know, abhors a vacuum, and someone, usually around 6 foot 5, with shoulders broad enough that if he's wearing a white shirt he could be used as a movie screen, decides to stand right in front of me, oblivious to the fact that by filling that space, he becomes to my eyes what the fat from last night's chili dog is to my arteries -- a blockage. Behind him, the crowd parts like the Red Sea, leaning to get out of his shadow.

How to solve this problem? In the interest of public service, I offer this grand proposal for the modestly statured: By law, every club should have a 5-foot-8-and-under section. Don't think I pulled this number out of thin air. The 5-foot-8 threshold was carefully considered. I referred to census data, looked at mean height statistics, studied scientific journals, consulted actuarial tables and, finally, measured myself. And 5 foot 8 was the figure that jumped out at me.

It's not exactly a new idea. For years, before cigarettes joined heroin and Michael Jackson albums as substances you could not enjoy in public, movie theaters set aside smoking sections. Even today, all-ages venues such as the Mayan provide a no-alcohol zone, which, in theory, makes sure no illicit, under-age drinking accompanies the faux rebellion of Blink-182 or Incubus.

Besides, it just makes sense. It's not like we're unused to being judged by our height. The NBA wouldn't exist without it. Everyone was asked to line up by size during grade school. Why should those of us who did not experience that growth spurt now suffer from the tyranny of the tall?

Of course, it's not a perfect solution. Those Mutt and Jeff couples will have to weigh what's more important: togetherness at a concert, or both parties being able to see the band. They're really no different from the mixed doubles you see at Ani DiFranco or Limp Bizkit shows; one rapt, the other bored, waiting for the night to end while thinking of what to request in return. Those in healthy relationships will find a way to make it work; those who aren't will not. Once this is accomplished, I can turn to my next concert peeve, people who pay for seats in theaters and insist on standing throughout the concert. How about a rule keeping people in their seats whenever an acoustic guitar or piano is being played? Anyone with me?


Steven Mirkin can be contacted by e-mail at weekend@latimes.com.

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