A Little Pig Light Show History
In December of 1965 as a 14 year-old singer/guitarist in a band out of Long Beach, NY Marc sat in a “Teen Club” at The Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, FL on a Christmas trip with his parents. As the hotel’s local band played covers of recent hits under 5 or 6 pink floodlights in the then-common cone-shaped fixtures he wondered about the level of excitement of the music and the seeming lethargy of the lighting. A friend was at another hotel just up the beach with a band of local notoriety, The Bird Watchers. Walking up the beach to her hotel he saw an even better band doing similar music and some original songs, again under the same type of little pink lights. There he sat with Merryl, a friend from school, thinking the same things. They walked out onto the beach where Marc talked about his thoughts.
He had seen the kind of “professional” lighting used in the theaters for star-billed acts in both hotels and that past October he had seen Bob Dylan at Carnegie Hall under the same static white light with white follow spot. Excitement in music with total colorless motionless boredom in visuals.
Upon returning home he continued to think about what role lighting might play in his own band and started constructing light boxes to use with them. Two little columns were cut out of plywood, each with 6 lamp sockets spaced far enough apart to hold 6 colored PAR 38 lamps, like were used outdoors to light gardens and houses, were wired with three plugs so that 2 red lamps, 2 blue lamps and 2 green lamps could be used separately. He wired up six household dimmers in a case from an old portable record player so he’d have a coverable carrying case, and at shows his band had (mostly things like birthday parties and school dances and such…he was only 14 after all) one column would be placed on each side of the stage and the colors of the lights would be changed between songs. Sometimes the colors from each side of the stage were the same, sometimes different.
Friends’ bands would asked him to do lights for them and, after naming his lighting business “Saint Elmo’s Fire” after the an effect he saw in the movie version of “Moby Dick,” money made from those gigs helped him add momentary switches so he could flash the lights to the rhythm of the music, and he added more smaller 3-light columns and dimmers so he could get light on the musicians from other directions. Marc found great pleasure in trying to fade lights in and out, changing colors and angles with the music to attempt to give the music a visual voice, always remembering those static pink lights. And very few others seemed to be making any kind of lighting for bands or concerts.
Marc started seeing photos in magazines of strange projections being done to Rock and Roll music on the West Coast, especially in San Fransisco. May 7, 1967 The Jefferson Airplane were on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and their performance of “Somebody To Love” was backed by a light show! This was no grainy picture from a magazine it was in color and MOTION! It was added behind them with what is now obviously some very early and rough Color Keying, but it moved, it pulsated, it was colorful and worked with the music…it was everything he imagined on that Florida night over two years earlier!
Pyrex pie pans and food coloring and salad oil came out as he started playing…trying to figure out how to do what they did! Then I heard they were going to be on again June 25th. They did “White Rabbit.” The light show was even better, different, giving a clue as to what might be done next. Photos and such had shown slides, and color wheels and such, but even the photos with liquids couldn’t convey the dynamics of motion.
Standing sweating, guitar hanging, sun beating mercilessly down and reflecting blindingly up from the tiled area his band, “The Dream Machine,” played a Saturday noon audition on at The Malibu Beach Club. During David Frank’s guitar solo Marc wondered if it was all worth the hassle. That day he decided to start making lighting his priority. There were millions of wannabe Rock stars on Long Island alone, much less in Greater New York, the country or the world, and very few had any real chance. Lighting and light show guys seemed way in the minority and had a much better chance of standing out.
So, a month before his 16th birthday he made what later seemed a much more mature choice than someone his age should, and chose…rightly to be one among few instead of one among many, many millions.
He did figure out the liquids thing. He figured out the slide thing, and many variations on both. He attracted a few friends to the madness figuring out many other light show tricks to add to his bag of magic, always keeping the stage lighting in case needed. And after a strange meeting with Frank Zappa at a fairly intimate Mothers of Invention concert, Saint Elmo’s Fire became , at first, Pig’s Light Show and finally Pig Light Show. A letter of introduction to Joshua Light Show’s Joshua White got him backstage at The Fillmore East to view at work those who had become visual guides since seeing them perform at The Anderson Theatre in February of 1968.
With Larry Wieder (now Berger), Pat Waters and Mark Miller as a core crew of visual pirates, Captain Piggy plied the Rock and Roll seas.
Not long after his 18th birthday at the end of August in 1969, Pig Light Show performed on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11th, at the third Tuesday Night Audition series at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East. By night’s end the whole backstage crew - including members of the Joshua Light Show - were calling him (and his VERY professional, for being so young, light show) Josh Jr. - much to the embarrassment of Marc and the obvious pleasure of Larry, Pat and Mark. Joshua White also looked very pleased, having been the one to sign PLS up for the Audition Series, after having taken Marc under his caring wing after that letter some time back.
Seven months later (and many more shows at The Ritz, The Academy of Music and other venues), Pig Light Show became Joshua White’s hand-picked replacement for Fillmore East house light show. Not yet 19 he’d attained a young heart’s dream, and was lauded in, among others, the New York Times, the New York Post and Playboy magazine’s prestigious Jazz and Music reviews.
The Fillmore East closed just before the beginning of July in 1971. John Scher and Al Hayward asked Pig Light Show to be house light show at their upcoming Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ.
“I was the co/founder of the Capitol Theatre along with John Scher. Marc and the Pig Light Show were a big reason for the early success of the Capitol. After the Fillmore East closed we jumped on the idea of the Pig Light Show for the Capitol Theatre. The Pig Light Show deserves to be in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame!”
All these years later…many television performances later…hundreds of concert performances later…years of designing and teaching Lighting in colleges later, Marc is still at it, but with many modern twists. Browse on and see.
All pages © 2022 Pig Light Show and Marc L. Rubinstein