Irritable Impresario

I know that at some point Bill Graham will walk down the line of ticket holders and mingle. Bill is always actively involved in the production of shows at Winterland. He’s as much of a fan as we are and his enthusiasm for the performers is as emotional as that of the audience. His volcanic temper is renowned—at previous shows I’ve seen him express both passion and anger when he mixes with his patrons as they patiently wait for the doors to open.

Bill is no angel—very few of us are. At base he’s a businessman, and his hard-nosed attitude often upset artists and their managers. But Bill isn’t only concerned with money and the profits. He wants both the audience and the musicians to have a satisfying musical experience. I’ve never spoken with him, but I’ve watched him interact with others. He’s trustworthy. I decide that if he comes within range I’ll politely ask him to open the doors early.

At about 3 o’clock I see him gradually making his way down the line chatting with folks, shaking hands, and smiling. I’m encouraged by his voluble mood and so I gather my wits. A ticket holder further up from where I’m standing pipes up and complains about the price of tickets and grouses that he wasn’t able to buy as many as he wanted.

Bill’s light humor changes to rage in an instant.

“You gotta be kidding me. I bust my ass to get the Who to play here, go to all the trouble to create a lottery so you don’t have to stand in line for hours to get tickets, and you have the gall to complain about the price?” A profanity laced tongue-lashing follows and metaphorically flays the “privileged young punk,” as Bill refers to him. The tirade goes on for a while until he turns away in frustration and continues walking down the line of cold patrons to where Charles and I are lingering.

I almost hesitate—but I speak out. “Hey, Bill.”

He stops and looks at me as if I’m some sort of irritating insect. “What do you want?”

“I don’t mean to disturb you, but my friend and I were wondering if it might be possible to open the doors earlier than 7. It’s really cold out here and we are all a bit uncomfortable….” but before I can finish, he combusts once more.

“Goddamit! You people are never satisfied. I don’t believe this. What the fuck is wrong with you kids anyway?” He turns around and returns to the front of the line, mumbling to himself.

Charles and I have received the consecration of a Bill Graham temper tantrum.

My own anger surfaces. “What an asshole. All I did was ask for the doors to be opened. I didn’t complain. I was polite.”

“I don’t think your timing was right,” Charles says drily.

“I didn’t think I would have another opportunity! I’m cold, you’re cold, everyone is cold. Was I unreasonable?”

I discharge my resentment in a chain of whining rationalizations. Some of the other folks in line say that Bill’s response isn’t my fault—it’s because of the knucklehead further up in line who complained about the price of the show and the fact that some of his friends were unable to get tickets because of the lottery. Time passes. I calm down and resolve to ignore the unpleasantly cold wind that increases immediately after the confrontation. Whether that breeze is a meteorological coincidence or a metaphorical judgement I can’t determine. In any case I wish I had kept my mouth shut because now I’m both uncomfortable and aggravated.

Charles advises me to relax. “We’re waiting to see the Who. That’s worth some discomfort, right?”

I have to agree. We are standing in line to see one of the most significant rock bands of all time. If I have to suffer a little bit, it’ll be worth it. Charles is spot-on. His stoic attitude is comforting, though he’s shivering also. The hope that I am about to have one of the supreme musical encounters of my life rushes through me like a hot blaze. Bill Graham can pound salt as far as I’m concerned. I let go of my irritation and it drifts down the alley with all the trash and paper that are being strewn about by the San Francisco wind.

A half-hour later someone shouts, “they opened the doors!”

“I guess Bill heard you,” Charles says.

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