If you were at the recent Joyce Manor show at Walters, you got a rude awakening from the fun of flailing around in a punk-rock mosh pit when Barry Johnson, the band's lead singer and guitarist, went off on a fan who was stage-diving.
All insults to the fan's patriotic jingoism aside, all because the dude was wearing an American flag on his T-shirt, Johnson's outburst was his second and less polite of the two in as many weeks about stage-diving, and has ignited a massive controversy in the punk scene. It's a controversy so big that it got Johnson punched in the face. What's the big deal, though?
To put Johnson's rant into context, we'll have to take a step into the way-back machine and play a little game. Here are some quotes from Johnson and At the Drive-In front man Cedric Bixler-Zavala from more than a decade ago. Pick out which ones are from Johnson and which are from Bixler-Zavala.
1. I think it's a very, very sad day when the only way you can express yourself is through slam dancing. Are you all typically white people? Y'all look like it to me. Look at that. You learned that from the TV. You didn't learn that from your best friend. You're a robot. You're a sheep. Baaah. I have a microphone and you don't. You're a sheep. You watch TV way too much. Baaaah.
2. Patriotic, straight edge piece of shit. Oh, born free, Mr. Patriot. Fuckin' macho piece of shit. Get the fuck out of here. Alright, we're done playing then. That's how you wanna fuck it up?
3. Look, we won't play if you guys don't wanna cooperate with us. This is why we turn into fucking assholes.
4. This is not for you. This is for the people who are being jerks. Please take care of each other and take them down, okay? We are not a hardcore band!
5. Dude, you don't have to like our band. You don't have to be here. I don't give a fuck who you are. Hey, this is for people who are fucking small and you can share and you guys are the ones who are standing on the fucking side. You're not at a fuckin' hardcore show dude.
6. If you guys wanna go fuckin' do that karate kickin' shit or you're gonna beat the shit out of each other, please don't do it at our show. There's a show going on downstairs, there's another show going on tomorrow or the next day, you can do it, you can beat the shit out of each other all you want, but please don't do it at our show.
The answers are 1. Bixler-Zavala; 2. Johnson; 3. Bixler-Zavala; 4. Bixler-Zavala; 5. Johnson, and 6. Bixler-Zavala. My point in this detour is that Johnson's feelings are nothing new or unprecedented in the world of punk rock, especially where bands who aren't exactly comfortable with the more hardcore side of things are concerned.
Where Bixler-Zavala was often unabashedly antagonistic, Johnson actually took the mild-mannered approach in his first reproach of his audience. He only lashed out after fans ignored his warnings and kept doing it.
He's not exactly wrong to do so, either. Punk rock can turn into a blood sport. I've broken my wrist in a pit personally, and seen many friends injured in them. We take it in stride, but imagine if we were smaller, weaker or just plain didn't know what a punk-rock show was like. For many of Joyce Manor's younger fans, or ones who got into the band through their crossover appeal, they aren't expecting people to be jumping on their heads like Super Mario stomping on a goomba.
Story continues on the next page.
In At the Drive-In's day, this became tragically clear. At the very same show that Bixler-Zavala launched the first rant of my little quiz up there, admonishing his fans for slam-dancing, crowd-surfing and stage-diving, a young girl was crushed to death in a Limp Bizkit pit.
Johnson's legitimate concern for his fans is admirable, regardless of whether it aligns with most people's feelings on punk rock. Personally, I know what I'm getting at a punk show and I enjoy all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into them. At the same time, I want everyone to have the option to be safe. If I wanna break my bones and bust my face open, that should be my choice, but at no point should that interfere with the safety of others.
Unfortunately, some people seem to have difficulty comprehending this concept. Apparently it's not enough to put themselves in harm's way. They have no respect for those who do not want to get hurt or put themselves in a position to be hurt at a show. Enter stage diving.
A pit is one thing. You can stay out of a pit. If you're in the front row and someone jumps on your head, there's very little you can do about it. If you're much smaller than the person jumping on you, that's going to end badly. Why should fans suffer so one guy can have a thrill by jumping off the stage?
Ultimately, I think that people should be free to express themselves however they want. But when it starts injuring others along the way, bands like Joyce Manor have every right to step in the way of it.
Of course, it doesn't seem like the point is making its way into many punk circles right now. Either people are too pigheaded to see how their actions affect others or they just don't give a fuck. I say that because less than a week after his Walters rant, Johnson got punched in the face for his efforts to protect his fans. The cycle of violence continued, and nobody learned anything.
Once again, express yourself how you want. But when you start to injure other fans, and now even band members, your free expression has gone way too far. It's time for punk-rock fans to take a hard look at their actions and evaluate exactly how comfortable they are with them. The rest of us, whether we want to mosh or not, will at least try to respect others and make sure everyone will have a fun, safe time.
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