Neumos was full, and hot, but not uncomfortable. Angel Olsen and her three-piece band were three or four songs into a characteristically hushed, intimate, intense, and also weirdly companionable set, built predominantly of numbers from last year’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness album. Olsen paused to tune her guitar. The room was respectfully quiet for a few seconds. Then, because a few seconds is simply too much time for some people to stand in quiet reflection, it happened.
From the back of the room came a loud male voice: “Show us some titties!”
How to describe the feeling in that instant? You know when you’re in a totally quiet space, then a low-humming exhaust fan you hadn’t even been aware of suddenly shuts off, and the quiet becomes even quieter? Like that.
The floor seemed to drop six inches. People looked around, appalled. Onstage, Olsen and her bandmates absorbed the insult like professionals,
saying nothing back [update: I didn't hear this, but several people have reported that Olsen did respond by saying "Jesus, is that you?"], conferring for a moment and launching into the next song. But the offense lingered in the air, made everyone feel embarrassed and violated.
No one answered back—what could you possibly say? Part of the violation was that the heckler had stolen the silence in the first place. The fact that he’d done it with such a crass, unimaginative verbal assault on a female artist who was playing to a sold-out crowd on the last leg of a triumphant year-and-a-half of touring, only deepened the magnitude of the indignity. First you felt stunned, then embarrassed, then angry, then powerless, then angry again. And then the show went on.
The following thoughts occurred to me (though they are not news to anyone):
1) This must happen to her all the time.
2) This happens to every woman who ever gets on a stage, anywhere, any time.
3) This happens to every woman who ever leaves the house.
I wouldn’t have blamed Olsen for leaving the stage in that moment. I’ve seen male performers storm off-stage because their tea wasn’t hot enough. I’ve seen many more (myself included, btw) become petulant and hostile on-stage because they/we didn’t feel the audience was paying the right kind of attention.
Being a performer is gratifying on many levels, but it’s hard in private ways that non-performers never see, and therefore are unlikely to sympathize with—you don’t like it? Don’t do it. As if that were an option. What a massive cosmic injustice it is that women—whether as preternaturally gifted and real as Angel Olsen or not, just all human women—have to pay this added tax, the indignity tax, just to participate in everything. (I hate the term “privilege,” not only because it’s overused, but because it’s inaccurate. It’s not privilege; it’s plunder. And I benefit from it and participate in it all the time.)
Fuck. That guy. Forever.
And though his words continued to hang in the air like the pollution they were, his effort to steal Angel Olsen’s authority and blow everyone else’s high didn’t work. The ball began rolling again. The audience seemed to take an imperceptible step nearer the stage in solidarity, and the band responded. Olsen was casually funny in-between songs, never hesitating to leave space in the sound, vary the vocal phrasing, or let the howling melancholy at the heart of her best songs feel like pantomime. It was a vivid performance that rewarded close attention. And despite the best efforts of one knuckle-scraping inbred redneck moron trying to smear his own shit all over it, close attention is exactly what it received.
But that’s not all that happened with that heckler.
A few songs later, I noticed a big dude was standing next to me, near the door that leads out of the showroom and into the Barboza/Moe Bar corridor. I’m pretty tall, so I always notice when someone is taller. I also noticed him because he heckled the band again, shouting “Come on, let’s mosh! Mosh pit! WHOOOO!” while Olsen was talking between songs.
I was 98 percent certain this was the same heckler from before. He had long stupid hippie hair under his big, stupid hippie hat, with a stupid pendant necklace dangling over the scooped neck of his stupid hesher tank top that said “Grandparents” on it. He looked like the guy who gets kicked out of the Blues Traveler cover band for drinking all the bongwater.
I started to hear the blood rushing in my own veins, felt my hands squeeze into fists, took my glasses off, put my drink down. I truly wanted to start a fistfight with this guy. Which I would NEVER do. Actually, that’s not quite it. I didn’t want to fight him. I wanted to pummel him. I wanted to beat him senseless. Hurt him. Humiliate him. Hate him. Or maybe all that violence was just something my body invented to steel me for what might happen if he turned violent when I confronted him. Which I didn’t feel I could not do.
“Come on, let’s mosh! Mosh pit! WHOOOO!” he yelled.
“Be quiet,” I said. (I won’t be expecting a call from the casting director of the Dirty Harry reboot.)
“What?” he replied, 10 percent to me, 90 percent to the room. “I thought we were supposed to mosh. This is Seattle.”
“Yeah, it is. Be quiet,” says I. (I won’t be expecting an invitation to write the foreword to the Best American Burns 2015 anthology.)
“You be quiet,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
It wasn’t exactly Rocky III. Nor should it have been. There was no spectacle involved, and no further altercation. But at least he stopped heckling.
After the show, he was at the merch table, trying to ingratiate himself to Olsen’s tour manager (and maybe scam a free t-shirt?). I took his picture, with the half-formed intention of plastering his face on Slog and social media with the headline “This Is the Creep Who Yelled ‘Show Us Some Titties’ at the Angel Olsen Show Last Night.’” I’ve never done anything like that before, but the impulse to make him suffer ran deep and cold.
Then he saw me and came over to offer a conciliatory hug, which I declined. I said, “I can’t hug you because I’m too disgusted. Why would you say something like that?”
“Oh, what,” he said. “What’d I say?”
“'Show us some titties,’” I gagged, doubly angry that I'd had to speak the words. “What makes a person yell that out?”
He doubled over laughing.
“Noooo,” he said. “That’s not what I said. I said, ‘Crush some tinnies.’ Like in Australia, drinkin’ beers!”
I didn’t believe him, and I still don’t. I reckoned that between the stunned silence, the dirty looks, the poisoned vibe, and the open hostility from everyone, he had become dimly aware that his mode of expression was perhaps less than suited to the room, and had pulled this expression—which is an actual Australian colloquialism—from his gaping baboon ass in an attempt to make his actions seem less worse. But really, “Crush some tinnies”? After the kind of somber, personal songs the band had been playing? (Sample lyrics: “But I’m giving you my heart/ Are you giving me your heart?/ Are you lonely too?/ High five, so am I/ All of your life/Stuck in time/ I’m stuck, too” and “To scream the animals to scream the earth/ To scream the stars out of our universe/ To scream at all back into nothingness/ To scream the feeling til there's nothing left.”)
Art says something to you, and you say something back. Here, supposedly, is what this guy was inspired to say back to Angel Olsen's art: “CRUSH SOME TINNIES!”
Which I suppose might be better than what he actually said, but still… I was already starting to feel embarrassed for having taken this guy’s picture, for having a dude response to a dude problem, for anyone ever having been born. My Stranger colleague Rich Smith was standing there, too, and asked the guy a pertinent question: “Why yell anything at all?”
“It’s a rock and roll show!”
“No,” Rich said. “It’s really not.”
The heckler had no response. Finally.