As anybody who has ever ridden the subway surely knows, people don’t know how to behave in a variety of scenarios and settings. This is especially true in crowds, watching bands. They bounce beach balls around festival grounds and set off fireworks in sweaty, crowded basements; they carry full-ass draft beers in both hands and surf E-Trade on their iPads, all while bands are either playing or about to play. Trumping all of these and any others you could catalogue, however, is moshing, which has always been and will always be the dumbest fucking thing you could possibly do at a show.
It’s impossible to criticize moshing without sounding like a fogey of some kind, like you’re the dad who doesn’t understand why the fuck his kids like Applejacks and skateboarding. But those kids were dicks, and so are people who mosh. Picture how awful and gross it is when some dude (usually a dude, more than six feet tall) accompanies their polite request to squeeze by you in a bar with a completely uninvited grab of the shoulder or, worse, palming of the upper back. Now picture someone doing that while being shot out of a cannon, and marvel at why anyone would do such a thing recreationally. It’s invasive, it’s painful, and it turns complex, purpose-determining humans, with desires OTHER THAN being bulldozed by flesh bombs, into billiard balls that will travel a certain distance if you hit them hard enough.
I didn’t just wake up last week, find my first grey hair and realize this either. I thought mosh pits were cool from exactly the ages of 8 to 12. During those years, I would talk about how moshing was “awesome,” while my parents hemmed and hawed about how I shouldn’t do such things because it was “dangerous” and I would “injure myself.” And they were right: first chance I got, I waded about 3 feet into a dusty, pulsating circle pit full of hundreds of offensive-lineman-sized Rancid fans, almost got my ribcage caved in, and never gave a second thought to doing something so barbaric and inane ever again.
People, incapable of grasping truths that should be immediately accessible to your average tween, seem to be lagging on this one. Actual DIY punk scenes have phased out such dipshittedness over the last decade or so in favor of increasingly awkward but fun dancing (to the extent that Long Island punks the Insurgent once declared: “In 2003, the mosh is dead”). However, audiences at shows by punk-affiliated Pitchfork-crossover bands positively teem with mosh, particularly among a sizeable subset of dudes who: i.) have no discernible politics and background in punk rock, and ii.) probably think that wearing condoms is emasculating. Anecdotal YouTube research into Trash Talk shows should be enough to confirm this. I myself witnessed it on at least two occasions: at the last Pygmy Shrews gig, where I was too terrified to stand anywhere but the back, and a recent Roomrunner show at Shea Stadium, where some jag flung himself into me and I shoved my finger in his face while screaming “DO NOT IMPLICATE ME IN YOUR STUPID BULLSHIT!!!!” As deterrents go, that one’s pretty good.
Recently, Randy from the metal band Lamb of God was tried for (and thankfully acquitted of) manslaughter in the Czech Republic because a kid died in the pit at one of his shows. The letter he wrote upon his exoneration is a heartfelt account of the pain he felt at inadvertently contributing to the death of one of his biggest fans, and it rightly proclaims the end of stagediving at Lamb of God shows. However, when it comes to the practice of moshing itself, his response repeats the most obvious canards about rock show aggressivity: that this kind of risk is what you accept when you come to see a band, and that you, the attendee, have the responsibility to be smart about it and avoid it.
What’s missing is any attempt to actually tell people NOT to run into each other like direwolves fighting over a carcass. All props to Randy, who seems like a really nice and thoughtful dude, but such hesitance relies on a dogshit presupposition. It posits a false equivalence between live performance and football. I love football, both watching it and playing it, and yes, I assume that if I play a game, even of touch, I accept the eventuality that I might accidentally run into someone, because the ONTOLOGICAL CONDITION of a football game is people fucking running either at, after or from each other. If you told people not to do so, the game would cease to be football and you would soon find yourself playing three-flies-up. The condition of there being a show, on the other hand, is some performer and some people watching them, behaving in no determinate way. As a participant in or purveyor of a public performance of some kind, you can tell people exactly what to do and not do. The weirdos who run Sleep No More kindly ask that you stay silent during your time in their performance, and you will rightly be laughed at/ejected/thought an incurable fuckstick if you violate that polite request. The way someone behaves at a show is not immune to coercion because it comes from their beautiful and unique soul; it’s a practice that effects others and it’s past time that we (bands, fans, venues) eased comfortably into the business of behavior modification.