by John Hall
It was sort of a last minute decision to see the Ramones. "Let's go to the Ramones concert," Eric said out of the blue. "There's nothing else going on, so we might as well catch them while they're here." Sadly enough, he was right; there really was nothing else better to do. However, my first instinct was to make up some excuse and bow out. Now, don't get me wrong - I don't necessarily hate the Ramones. In fact, we were pretty well-acquainted during my high school years. As old friends often do when they don't keep in touch, though, we eventually drifted apart. The Ramones and I were quits, I thought.
"C'mon... you'll get to release a little aggression..." he coaxed. "It'll be fun." Of course, there was the matter of tickets, which were supposed to be purchased in advance through "the normal outlets", as a recorded message confided in us when we called Starz for pricing. "I'm sure they'll be selling them at the door..." So, at last I relented, and that was how I ended up driving through Allentown looking for some club called Starz on a Thursday night.
Starz was out in the middle of nowhere. Literally. Warehouses surrounded it on three sides, and on the fourth was an empty field. Well, I should say that I think the field was normally empty; on this night, it was packed with cars, and a pall of smoke hung over it like a fogbank. Tiny orange lights glowed in brief spurts like will o' wisps whose light bulbs were dying.
"I'm not parking there," I flatly insisted. "Nope. Nooo way." Apparently, others felt as I did, for a line of cars stretched into the labyrinthine industrial complex surrounding the club. We passed parked car after parked car, some of which were surrounded by mounds of bottles and cans, left-overs from the parties that had gone on earlier. Finally, we found a place to park, but we realized with some dismay that we were a good ten to fifteen minutes walking distance from the club. The night was a bit chillier than either of us had expected, and, thinking ahead like good little Boy Scouts, we had dressed more for the mosh pit than for an Arctic expedition.
We hoofed it down along line after line of parked cars, past party leavings, past a few other late arrivals, and, after what seemed like an eternity, we stood in the parking lot of Starz. Three bouncers dressed in yellow t-shirts formed a solid barrier in front of the doors of the club, now and then admitting a lucky few of the small mob grouped around them inside. We made our way to the front of the line.
"Any more tickets left?" we asked, knowing in our heart of hearts that the answer was most likely, "No."
The bouncer on the right looked us up and down, and I expected him to cackle madly; he just looked like that kind of a guy. Yellow shirt on the left answered and broke the spell. "Y'over 21?"
Waves of shock and disbelief rolled over Eric and me both. Over 21?! We hadn't been carded in ages! In fact, I'd almost forgotten I had such a thing as an ID. "Uhh... yeah," was what he got in reply.
I could see the hamsters in their heads run a bit faster on their wheels. "Okay. There are a few tickets left," eventually made its way out of one of their mouths.
With that out of the way, Mr. Left Yellow Shirt started frisking Eric, while the one on the right began on me. We knew the routine well. In fact, Eric and I had already raised our arms and emptied our pockets. This responsiveness took them aback, especially when compared to the events that were currently surrounding Mr. Third Bouncer in the back. He was having a nice conversation with a gentleman concerning a very large Swiss Army knife.
"I'm sorry... I don't care what you do with it. Take it back to your car or something, but you can't bring it in."
The gentleman flailed his arms. "You're just afraid I'm going to cork you or something, eh? Afraid I'm gonna cork ya!" His large corkscrew glittered menacingly in the lights above the doors.
"Look," sighed the bouncer. "I don't care. Hide it in the bushes; hide it under a rock. You're not getting in with that thing."
Looking wounded and oh so wronged, the fellow turned to the concert-goers outside and screamed, "Okay guys! You don't see me hiding this! You don't see me hiding my knife under this rock!" I think it was his way of bringing to light the great social injustices inherent in the situation.
The crowd inside was motley and mixed. Old, young, bald, pony-tailed, they all milled around impatiently. It was close to 9:30pm, and the opening band was supposed to have started at 8pm. Just when a few small pits were beginning to some Nine-Inch Nails being piped through the speakers, the lights dimmed, and on came the Smarties.
The Smarties played and played and played. The crowd had pressed toward the front during the first two songs, but quickly realized that something was going on and so backed off. The music at times was raucous and loud, and a pit did manage to form for short periods of time. However, most of the Smarties' music seemed contemplative and on the verge of being mellow. The lead singer even pulled out a harmonica during one of the sets and bleated away on it. This did not amuse anyone.
"F*** you! F*** you!" chanted the crowd. "Get off the stage!" A few people started jumping up and down, shooting the bird at the band. Some innovative ones wanted to make sure the band got the point, so they lit lighters behind their hands as they shot the bird. Needless to say, the band got the point.
"Uhh... have some smarties," the lead singer stammered. He rained these packaged candy offerings to the crowd, throwing some to this loud group, throwing some to that group in the corner. "Thanks for making us number one!" he shouted. That did it.
"F*** you! F*** you!" yelled almost the entire crowd now. The band tried to recover by playing louder songs with fewer understandable lyrics, but it was too late. Small candies flew through the rafters onto their heads for the remainder of the time they played.
The Ramones themselves did not come on for almost half an hour after the Smarties slinked off stage. One by one the Ramones meandered on stage, until finally, Joey himself, staggering slightly, started doing his stuff, screaming the lyrics to some song into the microphone. You see, that's the secret to the Ramones. Two beats, three guitar chords, one arrangement, and assorted, sometimes incomprehensible, lyrics. It didn't matter what Joey belted out. The crowd knew it, and Joey knew it. What was important was that you could mosh to it, and moshing is exactly what happened.
The crowd rushed toward the stage, and active currents of people formed in the sea of humanity. Waves, tides, and all the other natural movements of the ocean were mimicked. People here and there jumped high and settled down on top of the masses, crowd-surfing back and forth across the floor. However, they avoided the pit. The pit was like a whirlpool. The closer you got to it, the harder it was to get away from it. However, all things considered, it was actually rather friendly. By this, I mean that no one was actively trying to punch, maim, or kill. Sure, there were accidents at times. I noticed bloody noses, black eyes, scratches, and bruises. All in good fun, I thought philosophically. All in good fun. Not even the bald man who headed me in the stomach changed that. Well, not much, anyway.
I was in the center of the mosh pit. How I got there was lost in the moment. What really mattered were the hoards of wailing dervishes running and jumping and throwing themselves about in the center. The incessant beating of the music, Joey screaming, "One, two, three, four!", the pounding of feet on the floor - these drove the energies of the center. Flashes of sweating bare skin as guys without shirts hurtled this way and that way; odd periods of almost slow-motion where you could read the t-shirts floating by, like "Make South Africa White". A good piece of advice - avoid speeding fascists.
Everything was fine until someone in the wall surrounding the center grabbed the back of my shirt. I slumped a little and prepared for a push, but instead, the hands kept gripping. I looked to the very center, and out from this reverse hurricaine eye came a very bald man running doubled over, face to the floor. I noticed that he had a bald eagle tatooed on the back of his head as I took the impact in my stomach. As if the Fates had not doled out enough punishment, Mr. Eagle decided to right himself by grabbing whatever body part was nearest, which, if you think about his position, was very awkward indeed. In fact, a veritable symphony of pain played itself in my head, with Herr Nausea conducting.
I do not blame the eagle man, nor do I blame the mysterious gripper behind me. The eagle man was pretty embarrassed, and quickly jumped back in the fray with a backwards "Sorry, man," directed at me. At the time, though, I wasn't thinking about blaming anyone, only getting somewhere where I could sit down for a minute before getting sick. "Stomach, settle down enough for me to get out of this, and I'll let you do what you will," I promised. That didn't seem to work. "Okay, Stomach, wouldn't a few nice sips of water feel nice? Let me make it out of here, and I'll give you all the water you want." I cajoled, begged, and pleaded, and finally, after much consideration, my stomach regally announced that things were going to be okay. By that time, I had somehow pushed through the wall, and I found myself slumped at the extreme rear of the club amidst the wounded and the "Eew... Moshing... It would ruin my hair" crowd.
By the end of the night, I was exhausted. Bruised, battered, sore, and weary, Eric and I met up and slowly made our way back to my car. The walk wasn't exactly the Bataan Death March, but it didn't feel like a stroll through the park, either. At this point, we didn't feel the cold. In fact, through the fading strains of pain in my body, I felt exhilerated. I felt good, and I felt alive. As I unlocked my car and got behind the wheel, I thought about how much more relaxed I felt than before, and how much more energetic I was. Things were sort of taking on the hue of a bizarre punkish Norman Rockwell scene in my head, "Two Boys Moshing", or something like that. I didn't care. Maybe it was adrenaline, or maybe it truly was something that clicked inside and made me realize how much fun I had. I did know one thing for sure, though - I was glad I wasn't one of the Smarties.