Imelda May and Wanda Jackson holding hands on stage at a gig
Gig Etiquette,  Gigs

I (Might Not) Want To Hold Your Hand

I watched the film Tenet last night. 2020 has been confusing enough, so I might as well end it with a film that’s difficult to follow and comprehend. (I really enjoyed it and don’t worry, no spoilers here.) The opening sequence of an orchestra in a packed, large venue had me marvelling at the spectre of actual masses of humans together. The audience was fully concentrating on being at a performance and not even slightly repulsed by their proximity and the ‘come and get us’ message it might send to any passing pandemic. 

My reaction led me to consider whether it’s going to take a while for us to be comfortable with one another again, once we are allowed to mingle in high numbers and within enclosed spaces. Will we walk around with an underlying sense of horror and revulsion, akin to accidentally wandering into a parallel zombie universe? Or will we slip fluidly back into our old ways, our months (years?!) of show-attending vacuum all forgotten? 

It has been a show-stopping year, quite literally. Will the show-starting year (be it 2021, 2022…or beyond) be a psychological conundrum for us? Will the extroverts (crowd-surfers, lead singers, people who know all the lyrics at the front of the audience) slide back into their high octane ways overnight? Indeed, will it be all the more challenging for the wallflowers who struggled to speak to anyone even before the isolation period?

Will we even know how to approach each other? I was discussing this very question with a friend a few days ago (over an ocean-straddling video call). Once we are reunited as a society, will we find that we have collectively pushed the reset button on social etiquette? Will the ground be levelled and we’ll all start again with navigating how to greet each other? My friend wagers that handshakes will be out. Gone. Too cold, too austere for a possible new ‘anything goes’ post-virus era. 

Would any changes extend to be cross-country or cross-cultural? Pre-virus, the Brits, if they’re feeling very friendly, would give you a kiss on one cheek. The French took the time to kiss both cheeks and no one even had to be feeling very friendly. The Swiss and Dutch must have had a lot of time on their hands, as they’d generously keep you for three kisses (alternating sides). Had any country upped those stakes? Anyone on four? Five? In the new maskless world, will we be getting into double figures?

The complexities of kissing aside, will everyone simply be upgraded to hug status? I’m a pretty tactile person, but even I know some people aren’t comfortable with being the recipient of someone else throwing their arms around them pre-conversation. Even if we’ve met numerous times. Even if we’re related. It’s just the way some people are. Or were. Maybe now, all bets are off? I’ve found gigs are good hugging grounds. It’s generally too loud for meaningful chat or a thorough catch up, so a hug says a lot without requiring any audio. However, that’s only with people I already know. Will a casual nod of recognition because you’ve seen that person on the band’s last tour or a smile because you like the artist on their t-shirt now deserve a full body contact hug?

Furthermore, will embracing our fellow fans on the dance floor only stem from the sheer joy of a return to gig-going? Or will hugs rise to the status of an emphatic declaration – our way of saying ‘I trust you’ve had the vaccine’? Without some Tenet-style time-tampering revelations, we will have to wait and see…

Photo: Imelda May and Wanda Jackson performing in London in 2010. When it was possible to stand close enough to hold hands and whipping out anti-bacterial hand gel wasn’t the first thing on everyone’s minds. © Imelda Michalczyk

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