Moshers and Me

by Ken Stringfellow
in The Stranger, January 24-30, 1994 issue.

[Music Editor's Preface: The Posies tried to play a benefit for Northwest Harvest on December 17 at Under The Rail. The show was a disaster, Ken and Jon Auer's indefatigable good stage humor aside. Basically, 30 or 40 people ruined the evening by continually jumping on stage, throwing objects and each other at the performers, and interfering with a lot of other people's enjoyment. These were not young punks who showed up on the wrong night, but rather Gap- clothes-wearing, clean-cut folks in their twenties -- stinking, stupid drunk. One woman knocked the microphone stand into Ken's face on her fourth visit to the stage, ass-first. The band tried talking to the crowd and playing all the slow songs in their book to get them to chill out, but it was to no avail. The evening ended when Jon's guitar head snapped against an amp, and he threw in down in disgust. He ran to the front of the venue to find his guitar pieces and "thank" the crowd for coming. It was the evening's best performance.

Anyway, I called up Ken and asked him to write something on this and related experiences, from a performer's perspective. D.H.]

I never cease to be amazed by some people's inability to sense when they should be embarrassed. This is rarely more evident than from the unique perspective of the stage I occasionally enjoy. One thing you people who attend shows might not know is we performers are frequently observing you too.

Seattle's musical explosion onto the mainstream was responsible for/coincidental with punk-influenced music reaching great numbers of people for the first time, the effects of which have been severely apparent. Some forms of behavior that would have been unknown to the average person suddenly became the hip things to do. Housewives took heroin. Men-on-the-street became men-in-the- mosh-pit. This led to a flux of inexperienced citizens flocking to enjoy the punk rock experience for the first time, without really understanding it.

The media abetted the changes. Some gross infractions: a Subaru commercial that compares an automobile to punk rock (favorably, I might add); another car commercial that implied that purchase of their product would aid in a fashion makeover into "that grunge thing"; and the inclusion of hundreds of flannel-encrusted teenage models (mostly male, 'cause, of course, punk = young male aggression) into ads for everything from Sears to Domino's Pizza.

The result? Bad-stage diving and mosh pit technique.

"That's it?" you ask. "That's the worst thing you can come up with to complain about? How does that affect me?"

It might not affect you at all, but it sure affects me.

I play music for a living, and you're interfering with my livelihood as well as the enjoyment of others when you employ shoddy imitation punk-ness at rock shows. I can tell things have changed, because the atmosphere used to be quite different at punk rock shows I attended in the past. As a matter of fact, it's still different now. The average person newly interested in non-mainstream music is probably supplementing their diet with mainstream examples that are only vaguely similar to real punk backs (I Stone don't Temple have Pilots to name names).

I never felt like I was in any danger when I was in the audience of a true punk show. There is an etiquette there among the chaos about how you land on someone, how often you go for it, and where you aim for on the stage. Under the right circumstances, stage- diving is almost delicate, and injuries are relatively few. I see fewer wounds from an audience of 500 kids than I do from a football game with a couple dozen. I say "kids" because the mosh thing is a young person's game: it makes sense when they do it, and it was invented by people like them.

A 28-year-old drunk out of his/her mind trying to either bust some heads or relive a childhood they never had makes less sense to me. Drunkenness is definitely a factor, as it inhibits not only the coordination necessary for pulling off a successful dive, but also the social self-awareness necessary to know when one has worn out one's welcome. There's nothing more annoying than seeing the same person up on stage every two minutes long past the point where it's funny, daring, or even has a point -- i.e. during slow songs, tuning breaks, etc. I begin to think of that person's parents -- if they had just given this person a little more attention early on, this person wouldn't feel a psychological compulsion to embarass themselves at rock shows throughout his/her early adulthood. It all comes down to manners.

I guess the stage-diving thing evolved as the ultimate expression of the shrinking distance between performers and their audiences; the people who are at the show are welcome to participate, and no rules were necessary because a tenet of punk rock is that people are able to govern themselves and neither appreciate or need any help in doing so. I hate telling anyone what to do, but if you care at all about music, musicians, or music audiences, keep these simple guidelines in mind:

My personal, silent maxim -- that may not be right for me to say, but I'll stick my neck out here: There's nothing more distasteful than a bunch of high-fiving white guys who think being an annoying idiot is what punk rock is all about.