Urban Paradise


I’ve never traveled much. Frankly, I’ve never felt the urge to leave Roseburg. If you’ve never heard of Roseburg, that’s a pretty good description of it. Maybe I’m not being fair. I guess Roseburg isn’t a shrouded glen or lost hamlet; the Dixie Chicks played in our most prominent city park just two summers past. Strangely enough, when offered the chance to go to Portland to see one of my favorite bands, I seized the moment.

The Vandals are a punk band. Stereotypical punks resemble infested lepers. These unwashed adolescents are rebels without cleanliness. The pierced, tattooed freaks don’t rabble rouse, because they are the rabble. Sadly to say these guys are too hardcore for me, for two reasons. My current financial situation seems to be one of perpetual poverty. Self expression costs money, that my parents wouldn’t be willing to pay. They seem dead set to never see me in a lime green mohawk. My second reason has already been briefly mentioned. My parents represent the more conservative party in the house. Dregs still need a place to sleep and food to eat.

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I was shocked when my parents agreed to let me go to Portland with two of my friends. The advanced plans were made and we left. The concert took place at La Luna. La Luna is normally a dance club, but on certain, rare occasions it mutates into a concert hall. When we arrived the show had already started. The first punk band had just finished. We were a little disappointed at missing Longfellow, for they are very talented. The condition of the interior was strangely frightening to this country boy who had dared to invade it.

The floor was packed with a wide assortment of punks. Some had dyed mohawks towering above the crowd, signaling position and radiating the mood of the mohawk bearer. We had an assortment of Rude Boys and Mods there also.

As is custom, the Mods were dressed in dark suits and frying on acid, while there similarly dressed cousins, the Rude Boys, where eyeing the skinheads. The skinheads or skins, obviously stuck out like sour middle fingers. It was quite apparent that many of them had recently shaved their heads. Some SHARP’s were there also, leaning against a shadowy corner, smoking and drinking. SHARP stands for SkinHead Against Racial Persecution. I am half-Asian and shouldn’t fear these benevolent skins but maybe they should be called SHAFF’s, or SkinHead Affectionate For Fighting. The embodiment of fury and urban desperation stalked in the shadows. Chances are they beat up the “bad” skinheads after the show.

After two more cover bands it was time for the Vandals. My adrenaline was pumping through constricted veins. Their crew purposely took an eternity to setup. Angst and anxiety were at an all high. My comrades were just sitting calm and relaxed, I guess one benefit of cigarettes. The fact that everyone else knew the secret of tobacco relaxation was painfully aware to me. The air was a blanket of dense black smoke threatening to water my eyes and choke my lungs. Virgin lungs had never been molested like this before. The smoke had been affecting me this whole time, but had went unnoticed until right before the Vandals played. The intense throbbing of the black strobe light directly in front of the back wall where I was sitting pounded into my head. With teary eyes and overwhelmed nose, my ears came through for me. It was they who caught the first guitar rift and bass line. In line all other sense came to me. The pounding strobe was brought down and replaced with smoothing, flashing aqua blues and sea green stage lights. The figures of the bassist and drummer appeared.

These two young guys were faceless. They existed only in the shadows. They had not been part of the old steady Vandals we all loved. Dave and Warren then appeared. Dave had joined the band in 1980, while Warren was still a founding member, 1978. Dave, as lead vocalist had the predominant position of center stage. He wore a light blue shirt with a picture of Mr. Rogers branded across it’s front. The word “MASTURBATE” was proudly displayed below the visage. He seemed in his 30’s, but his youth at heart shown brightly. The lights lacerated through the oppressive layer of cancerous ozone. His contorted face bellowed out old loves and new favorites. His energy and charisma entranced me.

I had worked through sweaty 20 somethings to make it to the retaining wall that separated audience from idols. On my left was a tall man. He was clad in a black leather jacket and wore glasses. He too had made it to the barrier, but by more forceful means. We never spoke but he saved me multiple times. I was threatened many times by the vacuum of a circle pit. The circle pit is an opening within the center of the crowd. The brave few inside are bounced off the sides of the circle and each other. The insiders out weighted me by probably 80 to 100 pounds. Entry was easy, escape was not. The circle pit existed a few people behind me. When the circle shifted toward me, I just grabbed the man’s arm and held on. He understood my plight and eventually quite taking notice of my clinging grip. I never had a chance to thank him.

Occasionally, I freed myself from enchantment and turned my head to view the back.Actually my attention was broken many times. Something about being kicked in the head will always do that.
Crowd surfers, what can I say? Crowd surfing represents the ultimate social shift. The lucky individual can go from back of audience to stage in a fun, fast wild ride. Many women have complained about crowd surfing. They don’t like being groped by one guy; why would they like one thousand sweaty hands? Guys don’t like groping hands either. I especially don’t like the crowd surfer. The standard army surplus boot or Doc Martin worn by punks is unbelievably good at causing bruises. The front of the audience was the paradise of crowd surfers and my head stood between them and that. I was kicked probably ten times in two hours. Only two blows really affected me and required time to recover.

By the concert’s end, I was ravaged. My hair was a shaggy black mess upon bruised scalp. My eyes were red from sweat and smoke entering them. My delicate eardrums rang with the familiar ringing of permanent damage. My white T-shirt was sodden and stained slightly off-white by the cigarette fumes ever present. I was pleasantly surprised to find the blood on my shirt was not my own. Falling on the dirty ground trampled by filthy boots soiled my pants. My heart raced and I felt amazing. I had discovered the secret of endorphins and adrenaline. Since that summer, two years ago, I have been to at least fifteen such concerts. Maybe I have learned the wrong lesson from my concert going experience, but I now realize to enjoy youth and seize the day.

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