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Why Do Bands Still Perform Encores?

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Encores have become concert standard issue. Artists pencil in a big hit or two at the back end of their set list, walk off stage, wait for fans to shout for the encore, act surprised, play aforementioned hit songs in all their encore glory, rinse, repeat. So what killed the spontaneity of the encore?

BIGWIG BEGINNINGS 

Musical encores (the word is French for "again") date back to at least the 19th century, when bigwig aristocrats in concert halls would request a song to be played again, since recorded music wasn’t available. Encores would honor extraordinary classical musicians for extraordinary performances.

Encores would often also act as instant replays instead of bookending a concerto or opera—an orchestra might repeat a section of music that garnered audience applause in the middle of a concert.

And forget saving the hits: Encores played at the end of a show were often lackluster in comparison to the actual program. According to University of Missouri Professor of Music History Michael Budds, “In the fine arts tradition, a performer will put on an hour and a half show of grand proportions and difficult material while the encore will exist simply to please attendees.”

TAKE A BOW

The tradition of encores also dates back to the early days of Broadway. Audiences would call back actors during curtain calls to take an extra bow, according to Middle Tennessee State University recording industry professor Paul Fischer. When singers and musicians caught up to theater in popularity, encores became a second performance at the end of a set. Acts would typically reprise a favorite song—that’s where the whole “again” part fits into the equation.

BACK WHEN ENCORES HAD VALUE

When rock concerts exploded in the 1960s and ‘70s, encores were saved for performances that deserved to be commended—held for momentous shows. Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, refused to let the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll play encores to keep fans wanting more (the catchphrase “Elvis has left the building” originated as a reassurance that the rocker wouldn’t come back for an encore).

Another Elvis (Costello, the British proto-punk,) would have his manager blare loud white noise through venues’ loudspeakers to clear out fans hoping for an encore. In the 1970s, The Who would only encore when a show was “exceptional.” The Beatles didn’t play encores because of a necessity to book it after shows for fear of mobbing fans.

THE FALL OF ENCORES

Former Washington Post columnist David Segal puts the blame for encores becoming cliché squarely on Bruce Springsteen. In a 2004 column, Segal stated, “It was the Boss who transformed the rock show into an iron-man event, playing four-hour marathons, staggering back to the stage with the E Street Band time and again, their sweat and stamina part of the spectacle.” That iron-man style—Bob Dylan has closed shows with four encores, and The Cure are known to have played up to five—took away from the spontaneity of the encore.

Encores are also pre-planned for logistical reasons: The Guardian says that the precise planning behind encores stems from the need to be “tailored to things like the curfew, contractually required set-list lengths and the fact that the encore has to be tied in with the lightning and computer visuals.”

Some bands embrace the encore ritual. Some hate it. New Order frontman Peter Hook compared playing a set to having sex—and the encore to “being forced to having another go after you’d had an orgasm.”

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Big Questions
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Is a Pineapple Called a Pineapple?
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by James Hunt

Ask an English-speaking person whether they've heard of a pineapple, and you'll probably receive little more than a puzzled look. Surely, every schoolchild has heard of this distinctive tropical fruit—if not in its capacity as produce, then as a dessert ring, or smoothie ingredient, or essential component of a Hawaiian pizza.

But ask an English-speaking person if they've ever heard of the ananas fruit and you'll probably get similarly puzzled looks, but for the opposite reason. The average English speaker has no clue what an ananas is—even though it's the name given to the pineapple in almost every other major global language.

In Arabic, German, French, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Swedish, Turkish—even in Latin and Esperanto—the pineapple is known as an ananas, give or take local variations in the alphabet and accents. In the languages where it isn't, it's often because the word has been imported from English, such as in the case of the Japanese パイナップル (painappuru) and the Welsh pinafel.

So how is it that English managed to pick the wrong side in this fight so spectacularly? Would not a pineapple, by any other name, taste as weird and tingly?

To figure out where things went wrong for English as a language, we have to go back and look at how Europeans first encountered the fruit in question, which is native to South America. It was first catalogued by Columbus's expedition to Guadeloupe in 1493, and they called it piña de Indes, meaning "pine of the Indians"—not because the plant resembled a pine tree (it doesn't) but because they thought the fruit looked like a pine cone (umm, ... it still doesn't. But you can sort of see it.)

Columbus was on a Spanish mission and, dutifully, the Spanish still use the shortened form piñas to describe the fruit. But almost every other European language (including Portuguese, Columbus's native tongue) decided to stick with the name given to the fruit by the indigenous Tupí people of South America: ananas, which means "excellent fruit."

According to etymological sources, the English word pineapple was first applied to the fruit in 1664, but that didn't end the great pineapple versus ananas debate. Even as late as the 19th century, there are examples of both forms in concurrent use within the English language; for example, in the title of Thomas Baldwin's Short Practical Directions For The Culture Of The Ananas; Or Pine Apple Plant, which was published in 1813.

So given that we knew what both words meant, why didn't English speakers just let go of this illogical and unhelpful linguistic distinction? The ultimate reason may be: We just think our own language is better than everyone else's.

You see, pineapple was already an English word before it was applied to the fruit. First used in 1398, it was originally used to describe what we now call pine cones. Hilariously, the term pine cones wasn't recorded until 1694, suggesting that the application of pineapple to the ananas fruit probably meant that people had to find an alternative to avoid confusion. And while ananas hung around on the periphery of the language for a time, when given a choice between using a local word and a foreign, imported one, the English went with the former so often that the latter essentially died out.

Of course, it's not too late to change our minds. If you want to ask for ananas the next time you order a pizza, give it a try (though we can't say what you'd up with as a result).

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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