Is That a Microphone in My Pocket?
When rock show banter goes wrong.
Fugazi of Washington, D.C., had riot containment down to a fine art: You might say it was part of their raison d'être. Anyone stage diving or slam dancing at a Fugazi show risked a brisk philosophical re-education—the music would stop, and through the buzz of idling amps, singer Ian MacKaye would make his displeasure plain. "You wanna kick and punch people?" he can be heard asking on Jem Cohen's 1999 documentary Instrument. "Then get the fuck up on the football field!" Co-singer Guy Picciotto becomes interested. "Those two?" he asks, before addressing the culprits in a folksy, reflective manner:
"You know, I saw you two guys earlier at the Good Humor truck, and you were eating your ice cream like little boys. And I thought, 'Those guys aren't so tough! They're eating ice cream! What a bunch of swell guys!' I saw you eating ice cream, pal. Oh, don't you deny it. You were eating an ice cream cone. You were eating an ice cream cone. Oh, you're bad now, you're bad now, but you were eating an ice cream cone, and I saw you."
It says something for the presence of Fugazi, for their commitment to a complete encounter with their audience, that Picciotto was able to improvise such a beat-perfect oratorical flight. What can have remained of the mosh pit goons after this fantastic denunciation? Two smoking pairs of sneakers?
Then again, a good riot is just what some people think they need. In a bootleg recording made at a 1972 concert in Frankfurt, Germany, dark blue troubadour Leonard Cohen can be heard growing suddenly depressed at his own depression. "I have been noted for my quiet songs," he murmurs, "and for my melancholy and solemn atmosphere. But I don't care if this concert turns into a riot. Because, you know, I can't go along with this, ah, pretence any longer." The crowd, devoutly hushed, seems somehow unripe for insurrection. Returning with a sigh to his music, Cohen strikes a morose half-chord on his guitar and is further dejected by some supportive applause and a single whoop of recognition. "You couldn't possibly know what song that is," he says wearily.
James Parker is a contributing editor at the Atlantic.
Photograph of David Lee Roth by Peter Kramer/AP Photo.