Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ask The A.V. Club: December 21, 2007


Stand In The Place Where You Play

I've attended probably a hundred or so concerts and watched thousands of videos, and I've noticed that 99 percent of the time, the lead guitarist is stage right, while the bass player is stage left. Why is that? Is it a technical reason or something historical perhaps?


PJ Laugherty

A.V. Club band placement expert Steven Hyden responds:

I'm not sure your "99 percent of the time" figure is 100 percent accurate—in the case of bands where there's more than one lead singer (like The Beatles or The Clash) or more than one guitarist (like Radiohead) or lots of people changing instruments depending on the song (like Arcade Fire), all bets are off when it comes to stage placement. But in bands where the roles are more clearly defined, it does seem like stage right is reserved for the most "important" non-singer in the band. Often it's the guitarist, the only instrumentalist allowed to be as expressive and show-offy as the singer, and thus just as likely to attract the audience's (or TV camera's) attention. From a neurological perspective, keeping the singer and guitarist on stage right might reflect the creative impulses of the brain's right half—in contrast to the more logical, left side of the brain that appreciates the order of the rhythm section.

Bands that put the bassist stage right are subtly indicating an unconventional pecking order. In Cheap Trick, singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson were the glamorous "rock stars" featured on the covers of the band's early albums, while guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos were the dumpy geeks stuck in the gatefold. So, it makes sense that Petersson would take his place to Zander's left on stage, even if Nielsen wrote most of the songs and was arguably Cheap Trick's leader.

Pete Wentz is the most recognizable member of Fall Out Boy even though he's "only" the bassist, which is why he's stage right.

In Wilco, soft-spoken bassist John Stirratt is the only original member aside from Jeff Tweedy, and his tenure is duly noted with a stage-right placement.

The theory holds true except when it's completely wrong. In U2, bassist Adam Clayton isn't more famous than The Edge, even though he's to Bono's left.

But for the most part, the "stage-right equals prestige" theory seems pretty sturdy. So, the next time you see your favorite band in concert, see where each member is standing—you'll know who the glory-mongers are.

Joe Who?

I have this incredible David Bowie mp3 called "Joe Briath." The mp3 claims it is from an unreleased Bowie album from 2000. I can't find any information about this song on Wikipedia, Google, or David Bowie's website. Maybe the song title is mislabeled on the mp3. The first verse is "Blackout by the time you had arrived / Drifting on a sea without a tide / And no one is persuaded there to drown / Behind the veil, colorless clouds." I hope that helps.


Jon Briath

Sean O'Neal isn't behind the veil:

Ah, "Trojan horse" marketing: Some lesser-known artist looking for exposure uploads his own music to a file-sharing server and tags it as "Unreleased [famous artist] track!" and years later, people are still trying to sort out who it actually belongs to. I especially empathize with this one, because I fell prey to the exact mp3 you're talking about during my days of, um, empirical research with Napster. (Although at the time, the song in question was tagged as "Lost Scott Walker track!") Further confusing matters, "Joe Briath" sounds an awful lot like "Jobriath," who was a glam-rock singer and pretender to the Bowie throne. (More trivia: He's also generally credited as both the first mass-marketed pop star and the first to be openly gay.) But the song in question isn't by Jobriath either; it comes from a UK singer called Balcony, who used the clever technique of labeling his songs as coming from, variously, David Bowie, Nick Cave, Scott Walker, and David Sylvian. If it makes you feel any better, you and I weren't the only suckers taken in by the ruse: There's a whole write-up of the mystery and its solution here. The song that you're looking for is actually called "Jobriath," and while it's not on


">Balcony's MySpace page, you can actually download it for free here. It's a pretty great song on its own; too bad he had to resort to such chicanery to get us to notice it.

Earth Maaaadness

Sometime in the '80s, there was a TV movie starring Michael J. Fox, or maybe he was just in it. There were teams on a scavenger hunt, and the "bad" guys were trying to rearrange some letters to form a clue. The one guy in the back of the van says something like, "Hey boss, FAGABEEFE?" That's all I really remember, except that I thought Michael J. Fox was AWESOME. Any clue as to the name and year of this flick? Thanks.


Frances Chiaretta-Smith

Sean O'Neal is the Game Master:

Frances, you've unwittingly hit on one of my favorite movies of all time, the indeed awesome Midnight Madness. This 1980 feature was Disney's first foray into PG-13 territory—which mostly meant adding a few shots of boobs accompanied by "boing!" sound effects—and indeed, it introduced the world to a pre-teen Michael J. Fox (billed as "Michael Fox"), who played the bratty younger brother to An American Werewolf In London heartthrob David Naughton. (It also featured an early, pre-Pee-wee cameo from Paul Reubens as an arcade manager.) In the film, various color-coded teams take part in a city-wide scavenger hunt orchestrated by "Game Master" Leon, with cleverly coded clues planted in various outlandish places—and goddamn, just talking about it makes me happy. I bet this is going to set off a wave of nostalgia in the comments unlike anything we've ever seen before. Anyway, the scene you're referring to is midway through the film, when the "evil" Blue Team—lead by Animal House's Stephen Furst—has lost the use of its cheating supercomputer, and the chuckling idiot sidekick Barf is trying to make sense of a group of seemingly unrelated letters. The scene is below. ("FAGABEEFE," by the way, has become a shorthand way of recognizing other Midnight Madness fans. Welcome to the club.)

On a slightly unrelated tangent: Shortly after I pitched the idea for our Random Roles feature, I tried contacting Eddie Deezen (leader of the nerdy White Team and one of my character-actor obsessions) and asking him to take part, only to find out that he refused to do the interview unless we paid him $20 up front. That was a sad, sad day.


Tooting Our Own Horn

It seems there are crazy levels of comments attached to most of the articles now, which is great, and a way better system than when there used to be logins. My questions was, is this representative of site traffic? Has the site been getting considerably more popular and well read? Or is the flood of comments over the last six months mostly driven by not having logins anymore? Not that it was ever lacking, but it seems like you have added a LOT more content and new features and blogs in the last year or so. Anyhow, thanks and keep up the great work.


Nathan P.

Tasha Robinson takes the bow for everyone:

Not to be too self-serving, Nathan, I'll avoid gushing over our accomplishments over the last year, and all our new content and whatnot, and just answer your question: Yes, theavclub.com has gotten considerably more popular on a fairly steady incline since we moved to a daily content format, instead of weekly updates. Before we went daily, we considered a piece popular if web metrics showed it had collected 20,000 individual page views. These days, a really popular piece—say, The Worst Band Names Of 2007—well, it's currently showing 237,000 hits over the last seven days. Granted, some of that is driven by the comment boards—by people returning to a piece over and over in order to comment or engage in conversations. But our overall unique traffic is way up as well over the past year. This October, we achieved a first—one million unique visitors in a month—which is almost double our web traffic from one year ago. So while easier-to-use comment boards have no doubt helped, all the additional comments do reflect a lot of extra readers. Here's wishing for more in 2008. We have a lot more exciting plans to come.