It is nineteen ninety-three; I am nineteen years old, and my friend Anthony and I are standing in the pit at the Warfield in San Francisco. The Warfield is my favorite venue for live music, so I will see nearly any act here. This explains why I am scoping out the crowd at a House of Pain show. We had listened to their CD in high school, I mean who didn’t bob their head to Jump Around, but now they were apparently playing instruments and begging to be taken more seriously. And so, since I love the Warfield so much I am here to see The House of Pain. The opening band is set to come out soon and a few guys are snaking through the crowd handing out stickers. “Get ready to get your ass kicked.” They mutter as they try and paste the crowd with their propaganda. They seem very determined, as if they know something the rest of the crowd has yet to learn. I look at the sticker as the lights dim and four guys walk onto the stage. The lead singer is wearing a ski cap and the guitarist’s guitar says Arm the Homeless. I look down at the sticker: Rage Against The Machine.
I have been to many shows throughout my life, I have actually seen Rage at least two other times, but when asked to narrow it down to my top three shows of all time, that night at the Warfield always makes the list. I am not sure which songs made their set list, but I am quite certain that they simply tore through every song on their self-titled debut album. One after the other, each song was like nothing I had ever heard before. Tom Morrello used his guitar to channel bizarre squeaks and squeals that were being emitted from the electricity in the room, while intermittently dropping bomb riff after bomb riff. De la Rocha had removed his cap and his face, which was about two feet from mine, looked as if he was possessed by the ghost of Che himself. The next day I bought the CD and began studying the lyric book. My political education had begun.
All of this reminiscing and nostalgia brings me to my point, which I have noticed is becoming a reoccurring theme on this blog, the theme being ageing. Maturing, growing up, changing, evolving, all ideas that I have been struggling with lately. So why did I start this post with Rage Against the Machine? Because last Saturday, I made my way to Randall’s Island in New York, by myself, to see the Rock The Bells show. It was eight hours of hip-hop that culminated with a reunion of Rage Against the Machine. After a seven year hiatus the boys are back and apparently have already angered some of the morons at Fox news.
As I walked the grounds alone on a day where temps where in the nineties, sipping my iced lemonade reading a Paste magazine about the lead singer of Bad Religion (who apparently teaches a graduate course in biology at UCLA) I scanned the crowd and began to ponder my place in the sea of largely white, tattooed, buffed young men, probably from places like Long Island and New Jersey. I could see them at home, playing their Playstations, yelling misogynistic epitaphs to their “bros” as their father’s American flags fluttered outside their upper-middle class homes. What was this race of sheltered, probably largely homophobic and patriotic white boys doing at one of the biggest hip-hop platforms? Singing along to every Wu Tang and Rage Against the Machine song, that’s what. Oh if we could just somehow channel this devotion into political action. But that train of thought is another post.
As I stood fifteen yards from the stage surrounded by these meathead fraternity thugs, covered in their sweat, hungry, and highly dehydrated (I stood from two O’clock till about ten thirty in the same spot without food or water watching: Mos Def and Talib Kweli, Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, The Roots, Wu Tang Clan and Rage Against the Machine. In that order! Why? You may ask yourself, would I do this? The simple answer brings me back to my theme- could I still do it? Do I still have it in me to mosh at a Rage Against the Machine concert?) Oh wait I was in the middle of a sentence before I got into this parenthetical, back to the sweaty mob…what was I thinking about…. How could we get these guys away from their cell-phones long enough to take the power back? It has been thirteen years and Rage is still screaming Wake Up but that doesn’t seem to being doing the trick. but then, my mind began to drift back to my own hypocrisy. After all, what had I done since the first time I saw Rage. Sure I had read more on politics that most of the people around me, sure I had joined the International Socialist Organization, sure I had spent two years in Africa and two in the Bronx trying to educate kids on the flaws in the system, and yes I am still an objective teacher and father trying to find a way to shed light on the injustices in the world and their causes, but I am no revolutionary, so who am I to judge other men’s actions or inactions. It was hot. My mind was scattered. Soon the place would be caught in a wave of moving bodies and I was standing in the vortex. Would I stay or would I move back? Could I still hold my own or would I prefer to sit in the back and watch?
The answer is an obvious yes,of course I can still mosh, although I did almost throw out my back. At one point I imagined myself on the ground being trampled yelling, “My back, my back.” As De La Rocha screamed, “Ya got a bullet in your head.” It was not a pretty sight, so I worked out the kinks and got back into the pit. I could do this. I have always been able to hold my ground in a pit. I have been in some pretty intense pits in my day and although I barely weigh one hundred and fifty pounds, you do not want to fuck with me when I am in the zone. Keep in mind that I am not a fan of bands like Slayer and Pantera, so I like to stay away from the big mean types looking to fight, but if you want to throw some weight around and crowd surf and explode once in awhile, I am your man. Or I was your man..back to the question, do I still feel the need to mosh? And if the answer is yes, why?
I have mellowed out considerably in the last three years. Fatherhood, sobriety, my wife constantly telling me the music is too loud, are all factors that have calmed me down. But if placed in the right environment would I still have it, and would it feel good or just look sad? I mean we have all been to the show where you see the guy who is obviously too old and out of place holding on to some vestige of his youth. At thirty-three am I that guy already?
One thing I always do to assure myself that I am not that guy is that I remind myself that most of the guys on stage are older than me, and if I still respect them than I can jump around guilt free. I also remind myself I am not looking to my past for answers. I think the problem with people feeling old is that they try and hold onto a past that no longer has answers for them. As I was jumping around, I tried to find out why it was that I still felt the need to be at that spot at that time doing what I was doing. I could have been sitting under a tree hundreds of feet away, but something in me still needed to be up there. I saw kids much younger than me looking a bit scared, yelling, “This is nuts. Let’s get out of here.” But I knew that the crowd was actually quite subdued. These kids hadn’t seen anything. I moshed in the rain with Nine Inch Nails and Henry Rollins for god’s sake.
I feel like I am going in circles with this post, so I will leave for it for now. i am sorry that i never really reached anything resembeling a point. I guess I need to sit down and write a post about the merits of moshing to get closer to my a point. All I know is that I had a great time at Rock The Bells; the bands were great, and after I got off my condemnatory soapbox and stopped judging everyone around me, I had a great time. The answer is yes. It is a good idea to go to an all day hip-hop festival at the age of thirty-three, throw your body around a bit and scream aat the top of your lungs:
Still knee-deep in the system's shit
Hoover, he was a body remover
I'll give ya a dose
But it'll never come close
To the rage built up inside of me
Fist in the air, in the land of hypocrisy
I am off to Lollapalooza next week in Chicago, in search of good music and more answers. I foresee a lot more sitting around and listening to bands like Ben Harper, although I will do everything in my power to be in the front row when Pearl Jam takes the stage on Sunday night, and if they should happen to play songs like Once, or Blood, or Whipping, I am will not be responsible for what I may do.