I am at concert and the band is playing one of their more famous hits, people start to clap in time with the music. The clap-along. They’re easy to get drawn into, these clap-alongs, they’re the percussive equivalent of crack cocaine, and the truth is they make a kind of sense: it’s all fun and games and comradely as the clappers enjoy in the moment, contributing in their own small ways to the music, but although the clap-along might seem like harmless fun, those who have seen it, those who have been there, know that its territory is a veritable minefield of social disgrace and spiralling self-consciousness.

I hate the clap-along. I feel like it’s a radically condensed treatment to our inevitable mortality. The problem is that like all moments, like everything in life, the clap has to end. I am terrified of being caught in the clap as it ends. This is a real, if underpublicised problem. There’s always someone, clapping along long after general participation has waned, clapping like some mad fool to a rhythm no one else hears, and which in fact, now that almost  everyone has stopped clapping, we can hear is in no sense in time with the music, or in time with anything resembling music. I’ve been there; I know how it is to be that person stuck in the clap.

The clap has to end see, but when it should end I can never predict. I notice people stopping, I look around, more people stopping, it’s thinning out, I have to stop now, stop before it’s too late. Stop. I freeze, mid clap, hands no less than a twitch away from contact and am awkwardly made to incorporate this pose into some semblance of a half-way plausible and not at all clap-like gesture. The obvious way to circumvent this conundrum is to terminate the clap early into the cycle. To simply cease clapping before anyone else gets wise. If I find myself getting drawn into a clap-along these days and am at least half-sober, this is my emergency protocol. I get a few claps out, for civilities sake, and then stop and enjoy in the spectacle of self consciousness and horror that ensues, having assuredly washed my hands of its taint. I am the clap stopper. The party pooper, harbinger of others’ embarrassment.  But do I want to be known as a party pooper; don’t I just want to fit in? Isn’t this what this whole conundrum regards? And there we have it: the tyranny of the clap-along. There are no good or bad ways to deal with it, just shades of concern. This is why I regularly abstain from the infectious allure of its promise.

And but here I am at a concert, not clapping along and having a very good time of it, when the woman next to me , to my horror, is not only drawn into a clap-along, but actually commits to the eminently risky over-the-head clap. This is, so far as clapping goes, the zenith of engagement. There can be no casual backing down from the over-head clap and the strange thing is she doesn’t look reckless. She’s at least twice my age and is dressed in classical regalia of the well-to-do-boho-yuppie set. But here she is, having ditched any pretence of respectability, clapping like she has nothing left to lose.

She claps madly away for a minute or two, but for my proximity I can tell that her strength is beginning to fade and her enthusiasm is draining. As people around us terminate their contributions, and as she notices me noticing her, I can tell that she has realised, she is stuck in the clap. She’s fucked. The look on her face now reminds me of a documentary I once watched about criminals on death row, a combination of dread and an acceptance of the inevitable, she has to stop and will be noticed stopping. It will be noticed that she thought she was partying down, that she got into the rhythm and that when everyone else got out of it, she did too; that she’s just a trendy, a follower, a sheep. She will expose herself when she stops; expose the interiority of her self.

But this is okay, no one is perfect and everyone is occasionally frivolous. She can just back down, maybe leave the theatre and get away from the area before anyone notices she is gone. But she doesn’t, she’s too proud.  Instead of dropping her arms and resting her faux enthusiasm, she transitions the clapping into an awkward dance routine; a dance were she rolls her arms and throws her hair back. This kind of dancing in an area of the concert hall where no one dances, where dancing is pretty obviously not the order of the day. And she puts her whole self into it. She stomps, taps and continues with this awkward rolling of her arms, which looks a lot like the routine from The Wiggles song Hot Potato, Hot Potato. She is accompanied by a balding man in large wire framed glasses, an accountant if I had to guess, who is just the type of guy who brings an umbrella to a concert on a dry evening, a just in case kind of chap, who now realises that something is amiss with his woman friend/ wife, and actually leans over and asks whether she’s okay. She looks at him, her face pretty clearly communicating that she isn’t, but that now she’s gone this far she’ll have to finish it and he nods gravely and I nod and avert my eyes, unable to watch any longer.

Let this sad story stand as a warning to anyone who doesn’t practise proper precautions when engaging in a clap-along.

Jack Jelbart