On Teleprompters and Other Live Cheat Sheets

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In advance of Bruce Springsteen’s show at Verizon Center in D.C. last night, the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi took a look at The Boss’s use of a small teleprompter at his feet that scrolls lyrics for him. He notes: “Springsteen is such an exciting performer precisely because his art has always seemed to lack artifice.” Indeed, no one cares if the Black Eyed Peas or Lady Gaga used a lyrical assist. Hell, most concertgoers wouldn’t care if they lip synced the whole show.

But Bruce, along with artists like Paul McCartney, Michael Stipe and Tom Petty, who have also been caught using prompters or songsheets, carry a bit more authenticity onstage with them. Reading Farhi’s piece, I was reminded of the Lucinda Williams shows I’ve seen. Lucinda puts on a gripping, emotional show, backed by a raucous band, but she also sings with a big, obtrusive music stand to her left, and flips a page in her lyrics binder between every song. Every time I look at it, it takes me out of the moment, and reminds me that what I’m seeing is more constructed and less spontaneous than I’d like to believe. I’d also like to believe that she could remember the words to the (intensely personal) songs that she’d written herself.

And even if that’s not the case, I’d rather watch them walk the tightrope and see how they react when they forget a line or flub an entrance. It’s all part of the performance. I once read an interview with Peter Gabriel, in which he confessed to resorting to what he called “Gabrielese” when he forgets a line–a kind of unintelligible gibberish that lets him move on. Other artists should be come fluent in it, too.

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