Old skool

Posted in Society at 13:53 by RjZ

The first music I really listened to as a kid was punk. Old skool, Los Angeles punk. I grew up in Orange County, California which definitely was not cool at the time, and didn’t have the nickname “the O.C.”, even if there is a television show about it now. It was where a lot of punk bands came from. Adolescents, Agent Orange, Social Distortion and others all started there. Not too far away Black Flag, The Vandals, Circle Jerks and TSOL and the legendary X played to small crowds for the first time. Great times.

I listened to punk, I went to punk shows, I hung out with other punk kids, but I was not a punk. I never donned the costume and I was a tiny kid who avoided fights for fear of being stomped into oblivion. I watched my friends do drugs and get drunk and beat themselves silly in the mosh pit (then known as the slam pit; when did this change?) and I was the designated driver for it all. Actually, I didn’t even drive, but I think they valued me as the only one who’d stay sane and sober while they did such stupid things. Well, except for an episode with a newly drained pool and a skateboard, I mostly was the sane one, too—boring, I know. But hey, other skaters would dive off the edge into the pool, surely we could do it too. Damn, concrete is painful.

Seeing these bands at back-yard parties and bowling alleys, I could hardly imagine that they would become history. Often the music was terrible and the sound was even worse. Bands would form even if no one knew how to play instruments. “Tight” is not a word you’d apply to many punk bands of the late 70s and early 80s. They’d stop in the middle of the performance and yell at each other that the drummer or the bassist was playing the wrong song. They’d speed up and slow down and drop stuff and trip and fall down, but now matter what, they’d play with unmistakable energy.

I didn’t venture into the “mosh pit” much. According to Wikipedia, moshing and slamdancing were invented around this time and at these shows, but I didn’t know it was something new. Jumping up and down and bouncing off of people in a throbbing mass was just a way for people to channel all that energy and feed it back to the band.

Moshing is crazy and silly. Jumping around, flailing your arms, shaking your head and smashing into all those sweaty people is an odd way to spend your time and it’s also an incredibly aerobic workout. There’s a surprising amount of etiquette too, for an activity that basically amounts to smashing into fellow moshers. You can get elbows in the ribs and crack heads together, but people will quickly pick you up and push you right back in if you lose your footing.

Moshing has many different moods too. Hardcore punk and metal seem more about mock fighting than anything that could reasonably be called dancing. When I finally saw Nine Inch Nails in concert after many years of being a fan and missing shows, I finally understood what the real point of ultra high energy songs, like Wish, is. When I saw giant frenzy rev up to frightening proportions after the first few bars of the song I could see that these songs weren’t just fast and loud; they were there to make the crowd go wild! I was down on the floor when the song began and it was as if the first few seconds stretched out just so that I would have enough time to realized what was about to happen. The whole place was going to go through the roof. Instead of reveling in the music, I wondered if my insurance was going to cover the likely injuries I was about to incur as I got swepped up by the crowd. The real realization though, was that I am pretty sure that’s what you call “getting old.”

Last night at the Queers concert at the Bluebird in Denver, I had a chance to redeem myself. The show wasn’t very full and the modest mosh pit was tame enough. The three piece band was cranking lighthearted punk anthems like “Like a Parasite” and “Punk Rock Girls.” My friend and I looked at each other and didn’t take long too decide that punk isn’t a spectator sport! For the rest of the evening I was lost in the panting, banging, sweating, bouncing, and exhaustion that only a good mosh pit can bring.

Moshing is a way to jump around with people. Really with them. Everyone can just let go and bang into each other without offending anyone. Lose yourself in the mosh and they’ll push you back in. You don’t have to think about it at all. Experience the comraderie of a group sharing the unbridled energy of the show.

It was great fun to remember all those shows from {gasp} twenty years ago but when I woke up today with sore neck, bruises and scrapes as souvenirs of the experience, I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck I was thinking.

I am pretty sure that’s what you call “getting old.”


  1. dwgoebel said,

    September 12, 2006 at 9:51

    Slam pit, Mosh pit……That is the question. When I was a teen, I remember the difference was only the show. Punk rockers had the “Slam” pit and the metal band had a “Mosh” pit.

  2. Dave K said,

    September 14, 2006 at 9:08

    I always hated the slam pit. It was never my thing. I tried it once at a Ramones show at the Pomona Valley Auditorium. I wound up with a bloody nose and in the end wondered what the appeal was. I did like to get really close to the stage though, in that kind of pile of bodies that the bouncers keep at bay. I did a couple of stage dives too. Again, not my thing. We recently went to see the Flaming Lips at the Hollywood Bowl. The drunken assholes around us kind of ruined the show for us. We (Syl and I) are definitely getting too old.

  3. Traveling Hypothesis » Look fast said,

    September 15, 2006 at 15:05

    [...] In case it wasn’t obvious from the this post, the evidence points to me getting older. I don’t look all that old or feel it very often, but it’s still an unmistakable fact and you only need to do the math in the last post to see that I am no kid anymore. [...]

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