Tours de Farce: The Charge Of The Service Brigade
It’s been fifty years since the birth of the service charge. Fifty years since an unknown graduate student at Berkeley accidentally mixed extremely volatile chemicals with popular culture resulting in the lab explosion heard around the world. For rising from that cloud of dust and smoke in Eisenhower’s America was an economic concept so elegant that men and women traveled from around the globe to marvel at its graceful ingenuity and stylish complexity.
What was life like before the service charge? Oh, those were dark days! Days when concert fans were forced to painfully line up at the box office in order to buy their tickets for Frankie, Sammy and Dino. Days when concert fans begged and cried for a simpler, more convenient way to purchase tickets. Days when promoters sat on warehouses filled to the rafters with tickets, for they lacked the mechanism to disperse those tickets locally in the neighborhoods where various artist fan bases were strongest. Then came June 22, 1955. The day the world changed.
Of course, as with all revolutionary concepts, the people were leery at first. They questioned the additional charges tacked onto their Pat Boone tickets, and the convenience fees attached to their Chuck Berry ducats frightened them. But Americans grew to love the service charge, and came to look upon additional ticket fees as being one of the three inevitable facts of life, right after death and taxes.
How important is the ticket service charge? That depends on point of view, for those additional fees that came attached to your tickets for Queensryche and Jo Dee Messina are more than just a few dollars added to the box office price. Back in 1955 service charges represented the dawning of a new monetary base, an economic foundation enabling ticket sellers to keep two cars in every garage, two chickens in every pot, and two kids enrolled in the finest universities throughout the world. Yes, concert fans looked upon the lowly service charge, and they realized that it was good.
And today? Today we go about our lives, buying tickets for Elvis Costello and Pearl Jam, with hardly a thought as to the practice of ticket sellers adding a few dollars to the purchase price. But that’s how great inventions often acclimate themselves to an ever-changing society. Wars may be fought and countries may fall, but like America herself, the ticket service charge marches on. Proudly and nobly without a care in the world. Long live the service charge!
And what of that anonymous student who started it all, the careless grad assistant who carelessly mixed together plutonium, iodine, Drano and Jerry Lee Lewis tickets, thus resulting in the greatest explosion of economic creativity since Dow met Jones? His name may be lost to the backwaters of history, but we remember his gift to our concert-loving world. And we choose this day, June 22, 2005, to honor his glorious achievement. Here’s to the service charge! And here’s to you, oh, great service charge inventor. We may not know your name, but we have a pretty good idea as to where you are.
We just hope that, when our time comes, we don’t end up in the same place. You see, we’ve always had a problem with excessive heat. Plus, we’re allergic to all that brimstone.