One of my favorite bloggers has a great writing technique. He has led an interesting life out in the American West which has given him some fascinating experiences involving the great outdoors and with wildlife, horses, and people from outside that environment trying to interact with it. He then takes these experiences and weaves them into some well written blog posts that relate to current events. Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey and spending my 20′s as a straight laced workaholic by day and bar hopping idiot by night don’t give quite the same rich personal history to draw upon, but I’m going to try to emulate his technique anyway. So sit back and enjoy!
In the summer of 1994 a few buddies and I went to a concert at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia. The show had Suicidal Tendencies opening up for Danzig and the mother of all metal bands at that time, Metallica. We wound up missing Suicidal to stay outside and tailgate a little while longer before heading in for Danzig. I haven’t been back to that venue since, but at that time all of the reserved seating was at the front of the amphitheater, and general admission was in the open grassy area on the hill behind it. We hung out and wandered just behind the seats during Danzig’s set, and when Metallica took the stage I spied a mosh pit starting at the top of the hill and made my way up to join the fray.
For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomena known as mosh pits I’ll give some background. As a direct descendent of punk rock’s slam dancing in the 1970′s, a mosh pit is nothing more than a group of guys (and sometimes a few ladies) moving around in a ring trying to beat the living tar out of each other in a controlled manner. This is tough to explain to anyone who has never been to a heavy metal concert, but this is how one dances to the power chords and thundering drumbeats of metal. And it’s is not as chaotic as it may appear to the outsider. Even though this mass of angry testosterone is jumping around and violently crashing into one another, there is a method to the madness. Sometimes it’s just guys moving around randomly and colliding. At other times the mass will go around the pit in a circle, shouldering and elbowing each other as if it were a carless version of NASCAR. You’ll see some other techniques as well. During slower points in the music you’ll see moves like “Picking up the Change”, and when the pit is on some guys may hook arms and spin around using the momentum to build up and barrel through their fellow moshers, or my favorite, linking with another member of the pit and spinning around like the last technique I mentioned and releasing each other simultaneously, sending one other flying in opposite directions.
All of that said, there are rules when one is in a mosh pit. First off, no cheap shots. You don’t blind side someone full force (a light shove is OK though). If someone near you goes down and you’re the closest, you and anyone else close enough to assist is helping the fallen mosher back to his feet. If you’re close and you’re not helping that person back up you’re knocking into anyone charging nearby who hasn’t seen the person on the ground and is heading toward them. No tripping. No throwing elbows at anyone’s head. I mentioned that women jump in as well – they are fair game but you don’t hit a woman as hard as you would a guy. There’s nothing cool about beating up a girl. I think that you get the idea at this point. These are not passed down on stone tablets from generation to generation, but you simply pick these up as you go along. One other important note – as long as nothing dirty is involved you can’t take anything that happens in the pit personally. The dude who throws his arm around your shoulder and is banging his head while screaming the lyrics to the song playing at the time will be the same one throwing a shoulder block into you two songs later as you pass one another crossing the melee. Likewise, The same 250 pound madman who just hit you hard enough to knock you off of your feet and out of your shoes and socks like Charlie Brown getting nailed by a line drive will also probably be the first one reaching down to help you back to your feet.
If this still sounds completely insane to you, well it sort of is. Like being married or in the military, you can’t even begin to understand what it’s like unless you’ve been there. The best way I can rationalize this insanity came after seeing Slayer back when Sister Babe and I were dating. Since I was a bit under the weather during the show, while I was on the floor I avoided the pit, staying just outside of its edges. Then when Slayer played one of their anthems nothing could keep me standing still and I had to join the attack. As I explained to her and her bewildered friend, “I defy you or anyone else to see ‘Raining Blood’ performed live and not feel an overwhelming urge to beat the living (snot) out of someone” After seeing the bruises that covered my body after one such show Sister Babe made me promise not to do any moshing within two months of our wedding, for fear of me walking to the altar with a black eye. For keeping my promise, a combination of good mosh pit and good husband karma rewarded me by sending the hardest hitting boys from the great state of New Jersey to perform at a local club the week after we got back from our honeymoon. And smack yourself upside the head if you think I was referring to these clowns.
For some strange reason two years later Sister Babe still has no desire to attend a metal show with me. But despite my still occasional need to enter a mosh pit, a little over a year ago she did marry me, so I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.
Back to the concert. There was a pit going at the top of the hill on the grass. The geography is important to the story, as moshing is quite exhausting. I like to refer it to it as “very high impact aerobics.” The combination of cardio, strain on your legs and upper body to keep moving and upright in a crowd takes a lot out of you. Being on a hill only adds to the physical effort needed to stay on your feet. It’s best to keep a low stance for balance and leverage, and anyone who has ever run on uneven ground probably has some idea of how much more exhausting the effort is, especially when one is colliding with people trying to knock you over. Even worse, when you do get knocked down chances are you are going for a bit of a roll down the hill and now have to take the time and effort to climb back up. On this night though, the hill would prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Normally any mosh pit will have what I personally refer to as the “Pit Judicator.” Loosely defined, a judicator is someone who serves as judge, jury and executioner all in one role. This role will usually be informally taken on by some big guy who will spend most of the time in the center of the pit, or it may be a group of guys, but there is almost always somebody ready to lay down the law if someone breaches etiquette and starts committing some of the offenses I mentioned earlier. Justice is usually swift but nothing that will leave more than a bruise or some soreness in the morning, and the friendly violent fun for all is able to resume. That wasn’t the case on this night.
Where there should have been a bunch of guys happily beating one another to a pulp, there was something resembling a pit with a few younger guys standing in the middle who were disrupting everything. They wouldn’t really move and tried to start fights with some of the guys who had the audacity to run into them in the middle of a mosh pit. My guess is they were some high school kids on the same sports team who came out. Their buzz cut hair cuts told me they were some kind of group but they did not look old enough to serve in the military. After a few minutes of trying to work around these goons I decided that something had to be done and if nobody was going to step up it looked like I had to be the leader.
Considering that my 6”1”, 150 pound frame has never been known for its ability to intimidate I knew that confronting these guys head on by myself wouldn’t work. So I decided to try a more subtle approach. I’d keep and eye out for a fellow mosher who had a reason for grievance with the goon squad, and would find my over to him at the edge of the action. I’d approach saying something like, “Dude, I saw how that (unkind person) cheap shotted you. The (ignoramus) tried to do the same thing to me. Want to help me take him out?” The answer was an enthusiastic “Yes”, and as we made our next pass through the fury I was two steps behind my new ally. My lead guy would collide with our target, and in the brief moment that our friend would be off balance recovering from the shot I would follow through with a well placed shoulder block and * SPLAT * Jack went tumbling down the hill(1).
After a split second acknowledgement of success my new friend and I immediately parted ways, and it wouldn’t take me long to find another guy with a similar bone to pick. I repeated this ritual several times, targeting different goons, using different partners, sometimes taking the setup role and sometimes doing the follow through hit. It worked quite well, and after a while the pit found its courage and the Goon Squad found themselves under constant random attacks. By the time I had had enough and decided to rejoin my friends who were smart enough to avoid random acts of senseless violence the pit was working as normal, and the fools from the beginning were under too much of a continuous assault to cause any more trouble. Oddly enough, years later I would use this incident as an example from my past for a leadership class that my then employer had enrolled me in(2).
Sometimes you will deal with people with whom you can’t accomplish anything unless it is from a position of strength. My fellow moshers and I did exactly that, and we achieved a very twisted version of peace. You know what I didn’t do?
After early victories I didn’t stand up and loudly tell everyone what I accomplished to try to prove my manhood, even though the job wasn’t done and it would have left my allies reluctant to trust me as a partner afterward.
I didn’t ask any of the guys to join me in a defense pact and then back out at the last minute because I was intent on making my “reset button” with the goon squad work.
I didn’t tell my new allies that we don’t have any kind of special relationship and then seemingly go out of my way to insult them.
I didn’t suggest that the only way we could achieve peace with the goons would be by moving the pit’s borders back to the pre-existing ones before Danzig’s set, especially since the goons seemed to have trouble even acknowledging our mosh pit’s right to exist.
I also didn’t watch dissident members of the goons dying in protests in the streets over the election for squad leadership that was stolen from them, and watch members of the press squeal with delight over my brave “We’ll wait and see” stance on their pleas for help.
And of course, I never sat down and cried if I got a black eye – I’d just dive back in and gave another try.
Violence isn’t always the answer, and while it has validity I was never crazy about the “Aside from ending slavery, fascism, and communism war never solved anything.” argument that conservatives liked to use to counter the
Anti-War Anti-Bush protesters a few years ago. To me that comment comes across as an attempt at a blanket statement to unconditionally support any military action by the US, similar to how the left tries to cloak every perceived grievance of theirs under the Civil Rights movement. Any war we enter or exit should be looked at on its own merits, and one of those factors can be the “aside from ending…” argument. And we have been able to produce results without going to war. After 9/11 President Bush was able to get President Musharef’s cooperation from Pakistan… before we started sending Predator drones and SEAL teams into Pakistan. And we were able to get Gaddaffi to come clean on his WMD program without going to war… until we entered a “war of choice” with Libya.
There’s nothing wrong with making an attempt to be nice to a potentially hostile nation, as long as a leader has the judgment to recognize when it is time to not be nice. And it shouldn’t take someone with a Masters Degree in Philosophy to tell you when that time is.
1. If you ever find yourself in a mosh pit where some (miscreants) are trying to set you up as in my example, the way to counter their attack is to do a spin move off of the lead attacker, keeping his body between you and his partner at the moment of impact. To any kids out there, being able to recognize a situation like this before it unfolds is one of many reasons drinking and moshing don’t mix.
2. The leadership class in question had a moderator on day one asking each participant to tell their story of the first time they remembered being in a leadership role. My fellow classmates had their experiences as lifeguards, as student group leaders, as part of a junior business team, etc. so naturally I used my tale of my ability to lead a group of random degenerates like myself. I concluded the above story in Project Management terms, saying that I was at a project where the scope of work suddenly and dramatically increased and I lacked the resources to handle it. Through an aggressive recruiting and training campaign I was able to bring my team up to speed to resolve the issue. And when it came time to roll off of the site there was no drop off in service levels.
I probably should have tried to claim PDU’s with the Project Management Institute for this one.
Cross posted from Brother Bob’s Blog