The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public. -- Samuel Johnson
Anoble philosophy, perhaps, but Johnson's opinion is debatable at best. Clergyman Henry Ward Beecher may have summed it up best when he said, "We bury men when they are dead, but we try to embalm the dead body of laws, keeping the corpse in sight long after the vitality has gone." Indeed, there are dozens of statutes on the books in towns and cities across the United States and Canada that have long outlived their reason for being, whatever it might once have been. And many of them concern the live performance of music.
Obviously, many of these ludicrous laws -- which forbid all kinds of seemingly harmless activities in and around the concert hall -- were designed to protect the citizenry, especially young ladies, from the highly provocative effects of music. But it often seems as if the officials who wrote them must have been acting for no greater purpose than a good belly laugh. Here are some of the more ridiculous ones. Newark, New Jersey
No person is allowed to participate in any musical event while wearing "a device or thing attached to the head, hair, headgear or hat, which device or thing is capable of lacerating the flesh of any other person with whom it may come into contact and which is not sufficiently guarded against the possibility."
Women who are single, widowed or divorced are banned from playing a guitar on Sundays.
"No female shall play a guitar while attired in a bikini on any street, road or highway within this state unless she be escorted by at least two officers or unless she be armed with a club."
A later amendment reads as follows: "The provisions of this statute shall not apply to females weighing less than 90 pounds nor exceeding 200 pounds, nor shall it apply to female horses."
Vancouver, British Columbia
A transient musician shall not tempt any man's wife. A stranger should not stop overnight when the woman is alone.
Any person who shall use or carry, concealed or unconcealed, any bean snapper or like article while attending a concert hall shall, upon conviction, be fined.
The carrying of concealed weapons by any musician is forbidden, unless same are clearly exhibited to public view.
No married man may go and listen to a band alone on Sundays.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Musicians are prohibited from eating onions when going to play with an orchestra or band between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Citizens are not allowed to attend a concert within four hours of consuming garlic.
No female wearing a nightgown may be found playing or singing country and western music. A woman of any age must be fully dressed before she can legally be allowed to sing or play in public.
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Citizens may not make "silly and insulting faces" at anyone playing a musical instrument.
Des Moines, Iowa
It is unlawful for any male person, playing in or attending a concert within the corporate limits of the city, to wink at any female person with whom he is unacquainted.
No male person shall make remarks to or concerning, or cough or whistle at, or do any other act to attract the attention of any woman attending any concert within the boundaries of the city.
Males with hair growing over their upper lip may not teach a female to play a musical instrument.
It's illegal for a woman weighing more than 200 pounds to play a banjo or other stringed instrument while wearing shorts in public.
It is illegal for any citizen to carry an ice cream cone in his or her pocket while playing drums or any other musical instrument. It's also against the law to eat ice cream with a fork under the same circumstances.
No person shall hallo, shout, bawl, scream, use profane language, dance, sing, whoop, quarrel or make any unusual noise or sound while attending a concert in such manner as to disturb the peace and quiet of others in attendance.
It's illegal to tickle a girl under the chin with a feather duster in order to get her attention while she's sitting next to you at a concert.
Charleston, South Carolina
Every woman going to a concert must be "found to be wearing a corset." A physician is required to inspect each female to ascertain whether she is, in fact, complying.
Those kissing while playing in a band are required to pause for breath between each kiss.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
It's illegal for anyone to be seen playing a fiddle while riding an ugly horse in the city park.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
No couple, whether married or unmarried, may kiss during a concert or while a band is playing for longer than three minutes.
Rochester, New York
Under no circumstances are young women allowed to drink coffee after 6 p.m. while playing in a band or orchestra.
It is illegal to carry a slingshot without a special permit while attending any sort of musical event.
Jamestown, South Dakota
No laughing out loud while listening to a country and western performer sing.
No one may play a musical instrument while barefoot.
Little Rock, Arkansas
The height of high-heel shoes worn by women at a concert may not measure more than 1 1/2 inches.
Whistling is against the law while a band is playing before, after or during any sporting event.
It's illegal to play an instrument in public while wearing a hat that would scare a timid person.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
It's illegal to play an instrument in a band while reading comic books.
Music instructors are forbidden to give singing lessons on board a boat.
No one may kiss a woman while attending a concert, unless she's "properly chaperoned."
Providence, Rhode Island
No man may place his arm around a woman at a concert without a good and lawful reason for doing so.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
It's illegal to use handbills as a means of advertising for a spouse during a concert or while a band is practicing.
Citizens are forbidden from "sticking out a tongue" in the direction of a musician.
It's unlawful for anyone whose shoelaces are untied to play in a band.
No married woman is allowed to play a musical instrument on the Sabbath, unless she is "properly looked after." What does that mean? Someone must be close behind, and carrying a loaded gun over his left shoulder.
Robert Pelton is the author of the recently published "Looney Laws." Reprinted with permission from Music Express magazine