Leave The Camera At Home

As we were preparing for a rafting trip down the Colorado River back in 1994, I received one of the best pieces of advice ever: “Leave your camera at home…”

It came from my brother, Ralph, who’d been down the river a couple times before.  The full quote went something like this: “Leave your camera at home or you’ll miss the experience because you’ll be seeing it through a view-finder.”

The Colorado, like any wild river, takes some wild bends and drops and is full of surprises – and we’ll come back to it in a few moments.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you know I’m a fan of live music.  All matters Covidian aside, I’ve made it a point over the past several years to get to as many concerts as my family can stand joining me for.

On the recording side, given a choice between a studio or live album, I’m going to go for the live version every time.  There’s something about a live show’s immediacy and energy that studio records, for all their polish and production goodness, just don’t capture.

Which brings us right back to a bright May morning in 1994, when a baker’s dozen of us jumped into five inflatable boats at Lee’s Ferry for the three-week, 225 river-mile journey to our pullout at Diamond Creek.

Water has some reliable properties, so the trip begins at the bottom of a canyon and stays that way.  There are places the walls open to slightly wider vistas – and stretches where the only narrow bands of sky to be found are tightly framed by high walls of ancient red, orange and ochre rock.

Colors change in depth and intensity, moment to moment, from first light until the sun is long gone.

Night has a mystery all its own, including being able to see by starlight.

From soaring edifices to clear water roaring from high rock walls – from tiny, metallic-colored frogs to chunky pink rattlesnakes, the scale and emotional sweep of the place is such that there is simply no adequate way to capture or express the experience of being there…

Except, of course, being there.

The same goes for great rock & roll shows.

Bruce Springsteen made a recent appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”  He talked about his new book, did a “show and tell” bit with his well-loved mutt of a Fender Telecaster, and sang an acoustic solo rendition of his soulful tune, “The River.”

There was also a short clip shown of Springsteen onstage from 1979’s “No Nukes” concert at NYC’s Madison Square Garden.

The next morning at breakfast, I grabbed a moment to scope out more of Bruce’s performance from that same show.

It was wildly good stuff, packed with all the energy and masterful stage presence that makes Springsteen the performing legend he is…

But the thing that really had me go “hmmmmm” were shots of the audience.


Because in 1979, nary an iPhone, Android or Galaxy was to be seen between performer and audience.


“Leave your camera at home or you’ll miss the experience because you’ll be seeing it through a view-finder.”

I’ve read about (and spoken to) a number of performers regarding their frustration with the disconnect ubiquitous smart phones cause – almost as if all they see from stage amounts to a sea of rectangular masks.


And I get that the urge to capture the moment intersecting with the technology to do so is tough to resist.


To Ralph’s point though, there is a difference between capturing the moment and experiencing the moment.  In this case the experience I’m talking about is all-in, fully immersed, with no distractions.

I fear that that level of immersion, with technological wonders constantly at our fingertips, is becoming something of a lost art.

By the way, I enjoy my smartphone as much as anyone, and I’m not suggesting walking backwards to simpler, romanticized by-gone days.

 Rather, I’m challenging all of us to be conscious about the nature of the of experiences we really – really – want from the moments that make up our lives.

 Because the beauty, colors and grandeur (to say nothing of the driving pulse that is the essence of rock & roll) of the real thing is never quite the same on YouTube, phone screens, or even the finest of coffee table books.

 Rock on!