What would you do if a performer, you paid to see, couldn't remember the words to his own songs?

He is a nationally known folk singer/songwriter. Just him and his guitar. And it just wasn’t one song. He even asked the audience help him sing so he could remember the words. A friend, who may have known him, said he was drunk.
I hung in there, but later felt I should have made a statement by walking out. It was a small venue. What would have you done?

I’ve heard tales of Bob Dylan having to borrow a lyric book from a concert-goer.

Well, I guess it isn’t that unusual.

Depends upon how they acted.

I saw a now-deceased internationally famous soul singer slur and ramble his way through a concert.But he was funny about, so I laughed about it and enjoyed the show for what it was.

I saw a prententious wannabe “super guitarist” f*ck his way up through a show and be a dick when the audience booed him. I left and I’ll never waste another dime or any time listening to his crap again.

If you could get fifty people to do it, it would be a movement.

Once saw Michael Stipe use a cheat sheet for ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It’.

Couldn’t really blame him.

He’s always done that.

Back when MTV actually was about music, MTV News did a piece about performers who used Teleprompters in concert, and they also showed some outtakes. One of them was Tabitha Soren telling two members of the Black Crowes, “We’re doing a piece about performers using Teleprompters in concert” and they both cracked up laughing. :stuck_out_tongue:

In the early days of Van Halen, they performed in my city, and while I wasn’t at that show, I knew a lot of kids who went, and the next day at school, they said that halfway through “Jamie’s Crying”, David Lee Roth stopped the song and said, “I forgot the (expletive deleted) words!” Of course, they assumed he was too wasted to remember them, but people who attended multiple shows later said he did that at every show. :o

A buddy of mine in a blues band had a “trick” when he forgot lyrics. Some nonsense words he would substitute. I never caught on till he told me.

Worked for Nirvana. And Weird Al.


I don’t know if this is the performance that recently got officially issued, but I have a copy of Neil Young doing Sugar Mountain and forgetting the third verse. He mentions “this is not my favorite of all the four verses.” And Dylan forgets the beginning of “I Don’t Believe You” in the CD of the Carnegie Hall concert, and gets help from the audience.
Yeah, they may be their songs, but a lot of these guys have written a lot of songs. All the instances I’ve heard have been pretty funny.

He did that on their MTV Unplugged concert (though nearwildheaven suggests that was typical)

I watched a video of Jenny Lewis with Rilo Kiley fumbling her way through “Frug”, their first ‘hit’. It was pretty amusing and I guess, situationally, it can be funny. Can see where could also be annoying though. Someone laughing their way through a faster paced song would be different that someone screwing through a slow ballad.

The Grateful Dead in the 80s on used teleprompters. Jerry Garcia still couldn’t get the lyrics right all the time. If he got three songs in a row correct without screwing up the lyrics, it was called a Jerry-Hat-Trick.

I’m reminded of a Dave Barry article, which I’ll hotlink to because it’s too long to quote.

Come on, we all want to know who these people are!

I think it’s OK to say here.

Back when Liberty DeVitto was Billy Joel’s drummer, he would lip-synch the lyrics to the songs so that if Billy lost his place, all he had to do was look over at Liberty to regain his place. Until he wrote “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The story is that Liberty told Joel, “Huh-uh. You’re on your own for this one.”

If it’s Glen Campbell–he started to become REALLY open about the onset of Alzheimer’s in the last few years. He couldn’t hide it anymore in concerts.

The OP describes the performer he saw as “a nationally known folk singer/songwriter. Just him and his guitar.” It’s not likely Glen Campbell was the performer in question, as:

  1. His final tours were with a full band, of which his children comprised some of the members.

  2. Campbell wrote few songs in his career. The only one I can think of from his glory days was “Less of Me.” He did write or co-write most of the songs on his last album, but this was unusual.

I’ll be charitable and say that it’s an unknown how advancing years may affect my ability to retain lyrics.

But I will say that the acoustic duo I’m now playing in has a repertoire of nearly 250 songs. The roots rock and country band I’m playing in simultaneously has a repertoire nearly the equal of this. And there are hundreds of additional songs I know the words and chords to but am not actively performing right now.

I have NEVER used a cheat sheet with lyrics while performing…never. My partner in the acoustic duo, however, uses cheat sheets — for songs he has performed scores of times over the course of years. This even includes songs he has written.

This really frosts me. We’re not big-name performers, so we’re talking sheets of paper on a platform attached to his mic stand, not discreet teleprompters. How fucking sincere can you be in putting across the emotions a song’s lyrics are supposed to convey if you’re reading those lyrics off of a sheet of paper?

But as long as he continues this practice, he will NEVER learn the words to these songs. Why should he when he has this crutch to lean on?

It may be that I just have a greater faculty for remembering songs than most. And it may be that this faculty will erode as the years wear on. When it does, I think I would rather stop playing than make this spectacle out of myself.

And it is a spectacle, of course. Just about the time I’m trying to keep the momentum of the set going, with minimal screwing around between songs, my partner will remember that he needs lyrics for the next song. So everything grinds to a halt while he attaches his lyric stand, then fumbles through his papers to find the correct lyrics.
Sorry for the rant! In answer to the OP’s question — if it were one or two screw-ups, I would forgive it. If it happened several times, and/or if the performer were obviously drunk, I would conclude that he just doesn’t give a shit about the people who made it possible for him to be doing what he’s doing at that moment, and I’d walk out.

My husband screws up at least one song per performance. And yes, these will be songs he wrote and slaved over getting the lyrics exactly right. He mumbles, throws in new words or just generally tries to fake his way through that section of the song. It’s usually just the one, but will be a different song every time he performs. It will almost never be a cover song. It’s a running joke now. He does his best, but it happens.

If the performer just screwed up one song, I’d shrug and consider it normal. Once they start messing up multiple songs I would begin to assume either senility or that he was under the influence of something during the performance. I probably wouldn’t walk out, but I also wouldn’t attend another concert by this person.

btw, DChord, if your partner won’t give up his crutch, you might encourage him to get a tablet and tablet holder. he could put together a document with a table of contents with hotlinks directly to the lyrics to the song he’s looking for. Or something like an Evernote document so he could get to the right lyrics in two to three clicks. They even make foot pedals to run tablets now. There’s no reason his crutch needs to be such a distraction.

As someone who has seen Billy Joel live a few times in the last 15 years or so, I can say that (when I’ve seen him, at least) he keeps a binder on his piano with the words to his songs. And he makes no secret about having to look at it. As he said (probably paraphrased), “after all the songs I’ve written and sang, I’m bound to forget a line or two.”

Paul McCartney famously did it when he performed on MTV’s “Unplugged”. As he put it at the time, “it’s been a long time.”