THE BRAVEST MAN IN METAL: DEATH TO MOSH PITS!
It would appear that the circumcised types who run this website were so enamored with my recap of one of the most non-metal metal tours that anyone in the history of metal has ever participated in that I’ve been asked to show my ugly mug around here again in the guise of the “Bravest Man In Metal,” talking a bunch of smack about some of the shit that sets our little world apart from those of other musical genres.
Thusly, I say unto thee: Fuck you, mosh pits!
To paraphrase a great song from a great band’s great album: fuck off and die, mosh pits. Just fuck off and die. Sure, calling out this most sacred of down-front show activities — an activity loved by so many both on and off the stage for the energy it brings to the live experience — may not be the most outlandish position one can take, but seriously, fuck mosh pits. Maybe it would be more appropriate to have the statement read “fuck what mosh pits have become.” But still, fuck ‘em.
I don’t mean to sound like your Uncle Art as he compresses his spine and collapses into a stained easy chair after gumming his way through a Thanksgiving pork chop, waxing all nostalgic about the way things used to be, but the staple activity down-front at shows used to be so much more peaceful. And my steadfast anti-mosh pit attitude is probably why I’m not gumming my way through my food yet. I hate to sound like one of those “I remember when” assholes, but I’ve been going to shows since 1985. That’s paying a lot of witness to – and fucking enjoying — a lot of rooms going completely bat-shit crazy at the sound of killer riffs. Of course I’ve seen folks walk out of shows with bumps and bruises and the occasional busted up limb or nose. But there’s a fine line between the expression of excitement the way excitement used to be expressed and the way mosh pits have become the breeding ground for fucking idiots to put their heads down and charge into one another like big-horned rams. Mosh pits have devolved into nothing more than seething masses of drunken fuckwads blindly running into and/or body/shoulder checking each other completely out of time to any music being played in the building.
I recently went to see grind freakos Fuck the Facts play at a venue down the street from my place. All night I kept thinking, “Wow, there are a lot of retards in here.” Much of the assembled crowd thought moshing was another word for drunkenly careening into whoever happened to be standing around minding their own fucking business. Or holding two beers while trying to knock over some other beer-holding yahoo by driving into each other shoulder-to-shoulder. Band? What band? Ohm there’s a band playing? Well, whaddya know… Sadly, this sort of reaction has become the accepted standard of mosh pit etiquette in extreme music today.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of the greatest live show moments I’ve experienced happened at a DRI/Kreator/Holy Terror gig back in 1988 at the old Masonic Temple / Concert Hall in Toronto. The venue was packed, and during both bands’ sets the entire lower floor was moving like one massive counter-clockwise spinning vortex of humanity and Canadian tuxedos. The venue’s capacity was something like 2,000, with the wrap-around balcony capable of holding about a quarter of that amount. So you literally had close to 1,500 people tearing around in one of the biggest circle pits that’s ever been conjured up by prayer to our Good Lord Satan. The best thing about this particular pit was that those who chose not to participate in the various sorts of circular movement and/or what some call “dancing” (seriously, try and explain the spasmodic movements of circle pit moshing or skanking as a form of dance to any brotha hanging on a Harlem or Compton street corner… you’d have better luck creating a working cold fusion lab in your basement) found refuge in the center of the circle. From here, physical contact chickens like myself could watch the band without having to worry about some sweaty and shirtless fleshy bowling ball crashing into and engaging with those who obviously don’t want to be crashed into or engaged. It was positively Zen-like and probably similar to the sensation surfers get when riding a perfect tube wave, wrapping yourself in a blanket straight from the dryer when it’s -20 outside, or a mother having an orgasmic vaginal water birth at home. Next gig you go to, try and replicate the above events: stand in the center of a pit and see how long it takes before you’re splayed out on the floor by a parade of dipshits using you as a piece of human target practice.
As you might expect, the above description of up-front bliss is a rare and totally non-existent possibility with the Neanderthal-like attitude and physical disregard found in today’s mosh pits. I’m not going to say I hadn’t experienced that sort of intimate metal-related safety before and haven’t since, but it’s safe to say none of the shows I’ve experienced it at have been post-1989, maybe 1990 if I’m misremembering. I’ve been avoiding mosh pits for as long as I can remember and have only ever had negative experiences when I’ve ventured from my selected spot of peace and good sightlines. Whenever I venture forward, something stupid happens. Whether it be the occasional bruise, flattened toe or having beer spilt on me, avoidable crap occurs, so I avoid.
The most memorable incident was the time I was accused of low-grade frotteurism and sexual assault by the fat, ugly friend of an archetypal “hot chick and her fat, ugly friend” duo. Apparently, occasionally being pushed, jostled and thrown into the hot chick by a whirling dervish of angry metal dudes and their fists and feet was my way of copping a feel in the eyes of ol’ tubby zits. Cuz, y’know, ducking airborne bodies is always the best situation in which to make your opening move and get to know someone. This story may have a confusing moral, however, seeing as “hot chick” and I did end up hanging out and dating for a short while a few months later, much to her friend’s chagrin.
The moment when things went from Point A to Point Shit is one I mostly put on the unknowing shoulders of Exodus. “Toxic Waltz” was not only the apex of thrash metal’s flirtation with the mainstream in the early ’90s, but its lyrics gave every knucklehead in the metal world — especially those new to the scene — the green light to “Kick your friend in the head and have a ball.” Couple lyrics like “Give someone a kick to prove you’re truly sick” with an immensely catchy tune and it’s a fucking recipe for disaster. And that disaster has found its place in the space just in the front of the stage over the last two-plus decades.
So what do we do about it? Some of you will say, “Leave well enough alone, asshat.” Until you or someone you know shatters a femur, has a septum piercing torn out with extreme prejudice or takes a beer bottle off the teeth and forehead, that is. Listen, I’m not saying do away with mosh pits, moshing and whatnot. I’m not in charge, I don’t want to be and who the fuck am I to tell anyone what to do? History has long proven that banning something doesn’t really do much to stop whatever’s being banned. Shit, you’re probably reading this while sucking on the business end of a spliff the size of Rhode Island right now. Know that I totally understand the other end of it as well. Being on stage, you’d rather see a bunch of fucking lunatics going off in response to the same songs that make most of the general public run screaming for the hills and your friends hem, haw and test their sense of diplomacy. The sort of intense physical reaction in a mosh pit is much preferred to those shows when all the motion in the room can be summed up when some guy moved from standing with his arms crossed to stroking his beard after whipping out his iPhone and checking his Facebook page. It’s not like you have to worry about the personal space invasion: you’re on stage, away from most of the bullshit.
But I’m as guilty as fuck, I admit it. The scene was a particular US tour my old band embarked upon. We played at the legendary 924 Gilman venue, tacked onto a bill with much bigger bands. We were virtual unknowns on a month-long tour and very much used to the folded arms reaction – this was before beards became a viable fashion statement and iPhones and Facebook even existed. So, when some big, burly kid started losing his mind to our meandering compositions, it was a welcome change for the four dudes on stage who were so used to confused stares and being asked “How do you even write songs like that?” From my position stage right, however, I noticed a small group of three or four svelte and smaller attendees also getting into our crap off to the side, obviously afraid to make a move to get down front because they didn’t want to get bounced around by the big dude and his one man pit (I know this because I asked them). This is all hindsight of course, but if I had any testicular fortitude (and didn’t actually have to y’know, play the songs), I’d have gotten them involved somehow by pulling a move similar to the riotgrrl types who used to form girls-only “bitch pits” at Fugazi shows back in the ’90s. But I didn’t; I let the violence reign unchecked and here we are.
Sure, sometimes it’s funny to watch shit like a Wall of Death in person or on YouTube…
… and one can always avoid the hassle altogether by keeping their distance. But shouldn’t there be a level playing ground for everyone who spends their entertainment dollar at the same show? Why should me and people like me have to spend the duration of a gig looking over their shoulder and giving our peripheral vision capabilities a work out? Like I said, the solution isn’t to ban this shit the same way those in charge of Texas high school football banned the practice of Bull in the Ring a few years back (which is pretty similar to what happens at far too many shows these days). Fuck, if the fuckers in charge of high school football in Texas can pull their heads out of their asses long enough to protect the hand that feeds them, then maybe the metal community can figure out how to make watching a band from up front an experience that potentially won’t fuck over your vertebrae. The best solution I’ve heard yet came, ironically, from Dan Yemin, lead singer of the awesomely awesome hardcore punk band Paint it Black. As their set was kicking off in Toronto a couple years ago, the notoriously outspoken Yemin – who’s also a child psychologist — said, “If you want to watch the show, come up to the front. If you want to kick and kill people, do it in the back.” Maybe pushing the physical release portion of the crowd a few feet backwards is what it takes to make going to shows a bit more peaceful for those who just want to watch and maybe throw the horns or headbang a bit. Perhaps I’m a big giant pantywaist for complaining about any of this shit in the first place, but it’s the best idea I’ve stumbled across for an issue I know many of you deal with. And of course, it didn’t come from a metalhead. Fucking figures.