Do you remember the days when even middle-aged accountants moshed?
Yesterday, while Pantaliamon and I were cleaning house, I happened to put on a record by early-1990’s college rock band the Judybats. I probably hadn’t listened to it in close to five years -- the last time I got nostalgic for high school -- and I was struck by all the memories it brought back. I saw myself telling some proto-alternakids about the band at a high school football game, receiving scoffing criticism of anything remotely “mellow.” It would seem strange, then, that the Judybats also brought back memories of the alternative music boom and moshing, especially given how poppy they sounded. But that’s exactly what happened.
Ah moshing, the sacred dance. The pastime of a million young Americans caught up in the overwhelming euphoria of the alternative music boom (roughly 1991 - 1996). I remember an MTV special called “Breaking out of Bounds” hosted by short-term VJ Karen Bryant, which sought to explain the cryptic meaning of slam dancing to an ignorant audience. At seventeen, I had only seen moshing at small firehouse shows and at a “Battle of the Bands” -- I was both intrigued and terrified by the huge throbbing masses of bodies I saw in legendary television pits.
Six months following the first airing of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on MTV, moshing went from a punk rock rite of passage to an amusement park attraction. Marginally noticed in 1991, the Lollapalooza festival’s 1992 installment saw thousands of kids show up just to mosh, turning it into a punk rock Disney World. What had once been an almost secret, sacred event only known to punks had become a nationwide teenybopper sport.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at a Judybats show I attended at the Bayou nightclub in Georgetown in early 1994. The Judybats were -- as I described earlier -- a poppy college band, certainly not what you’d think of as either “punk” or “rock.” Yet no sooner had the Judybats taken the stage then a massive middle-aged yuppie accountant type dressed in a tucked in golf shirt, khaki pants and penny loafers began gleefully throwing himself into me. Scanning the crowd -- which was predominately yuppie, as with many comparable shows of the day -- I saw similar attacks going on, middle-aged professionals engaging in a watered down version of slam dancing. They ran into each other, drunkenly laughing, totally oblivious to the fact that their movements did not match the music.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I asked him.
“Moshing!” he replied, so proud of himself.
“Stop it,” I urged. “This is the Judybats -- we’re not at Lollapalooza.”
“Fuck you!” he said, still grinning.
All I could do was slip further back into the crowd, away from the melee, losing my prime view of the band and completely ruining the evening.
I couldn’t get over what was happening -- not only was moshing to the Judybats completely silly and inappropriate, but it was even more ridiculous that middle aged office workers in professional casual attire were imitating what they saw on MTV. It seemed painfully obvious that these young adults approaching the end of their twenties were trying to get a piece of my generation’s own slice commercially sanctioned rebellion -- they had missed out on the fun of “alternative” culture back when they were going to Duran Duran and Tears for Fears concerts, so now they were making up for lost time.
It was at that moment, that I decided to reject alternative music and the pop cultural euphoria I’d participated in since high school. I saw the overt commercialization as a ruining force in the culture that had helped me survive my adolescence. I soon retreated into the relatively more obscure realm of indie rock, which has only now begun to surge to mainstream prominence with the popularity of bands like the White Stripes and the Dashboard Confessional.
It’s strange -- although my memories of the early 1990’s are now mostly fuzzy, I can still clearly see the face of the yuppie pogoing into me, and can completely recall the brief exchange we had. If I passed him on the streets of Washington this afternoon, I would instantly recognize him, although I can’t remember the names or faces of many of my college acquaintances. It was the last time I ever ventured into a pit, and I think a very significant turning point in my life as a music fan.