The night Dee Dee Ramone crushed my hand & other perils of getting up close

dee_dee_ramoneRecently I participated in one of those Facebook quizzes. This one was called “Ten live shows one is a lie. Which one?” I had to guess which show my Facebook Friend did not attend. One of the shows this friend wrote as a possible lie was The Ramones. I immediately remembered The Ramones concert I attended in San Francisco. Great show. Then my right hand twitched. I had forgotten that Dee Dee Ramone crushed my right hand at the same moment the band launched into one of their songs. Which song? Hell if I knew. So many of them sound the same–like “Louie Louie” on rocket fuel.

I attended many concerts in the late 70s and the early 80s. Most of them were Punk or New Wave bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Talking Heads, Fear, Black Flag, PiL, and X. There were countless no-name bands, as well. They seemed to always open their songs with “This song is about [insert something like nuclear war, cops, Ronald Reagan, the government, etc.].” Then the singer would yell in a machine gun fashion “Onetwothreefour, onetwothreefour!” Virtually all of these shows had “festival seating” which is to say no seating at all. Since I wanted to get up as close as possible, I had to work my way to the very front while avoiding the mosh pit. In reality, I could never truly avoid the mosh pit–it was like one of the few things I remembered from high school science: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When Derf pushed Flea in the center of the mosh pit, Flea slammed into Shit, Shit slammed into Scratch, Scratch slammed into Mom Fucks, Mom Fucks slammed into someone else and finally, way out on the edge of the pit Jack got pushed. Not cool!

Then there was stage diving. I’m not talking about the kind of stage diving that artists Katy Perry, Bruce Springsteen, and others performs: falling back into gentle hands of their fans. No, this is more violent and without grace. When moshers would run around to the side of the stage, run past the playing musicians and jump into the mosh pit, many times doing forward flips–their big black boot heels being the first thing to hit the moshers. I never understood the appeal of stage diving or being the recipient of some 160-pound punk’s body slamming into me. Flying punks were another reason I stayed clear of the mosh pit’s epicenter. The only thing entertaining about stage diving was the hefty, unkempt roadies with their faded Zildjian t-shirts who guarded the sides of the stage. Any prospective stage diver had to run the gauntlet past these gorillas. If the roadie caught hopeful, the roadies would hurl him backward off the stage where there was no soft mosh to break his fall, maybe some empty guitar stands or a couple of symbols. The crash added to the ambiance. It was strange how this abuse wouldn’t detour the punks from making continuous attempts at stage diving.

I never understood the appeal of stage diving or moshing. It hurt, and it took away from the concert experience, but I suppose some people were there to “party.”  I just liked getting up close. Maybe I’m too much Johnny Winter and not enough Johnny Rotten. Anyway, I don’t recall who opened for The Ramones that night, but I knew that even if it were a crappy band, I was going to have to get close during their set because, by the time the main act took the stage, it would be nearly impossible to get close.

I spent the time during that opening set pushing back on all of the moshers. I never really understood the whole mosh pit thing. Whenever I would make my way to the stage, I would get angry at getting pushed around, but whenever I pushed hard again somebody in frustration they would smile and then push back on me, as if to say, “Thanks! Here’s one back at yeah, brother. Isn’t this fun!”

When the Ramones took the stage, I had finally worked my way up to the very front of the stage–audience right. There was no one separating me from the stage. I looked up, and in the darkness, I could see Dee Dee Ramone adjusting the strap to his bass. Damn, this was going to be awesome! The lights went up; Joey Ramone said something like, “Hey, We’re the Ramones. This is ‘Blitzkrieg Bop.” Dee Dee then shouted “One, two, three, four,” jumped forward, and they were off.

It was a great concert, but not without its drawbacks. I didn’t take into consideration how loud it would be near a stack of speakers. Mind you I was a seasoned concertgoer by this time, but The Ramones played LOUD, and I couldn’t have got any closer to the speakers. The few seconds between songs didn’t provide much of a respite for my traumatized tympanic membranes. In fact most of the time the music never stopped. The way The Ramones played there was usually some feedback from Johnny’s guitar blaring through the speaker, then Joey would yell the title of the next song, and Dee Dee would yell off mike “One two three four” and off they would go into the next song. It didn’t matter. I was digging it. I would pay the price for my position near the stage. In fact, my ears would still be in a congested fog for most of the next day, but something else happened that eclipsed that discomfort by quite a bit.

From time to time there would be this surge from the mosh pit that would make it to me. I would get pushed against the stage like waves crashing into the rocks with me in between the two. I was pushed up against the stage and then released and then pushed and then released. When the push came hard, I could feel the pressure on my sternum. Years later, my wife would comment on how weird my sternum felt. She called it my “ski jump.” I seriously doubt that being pushed up against the stage made my sternum concave in the middle with a ski-jump-like lip at the bottom. Still, whenever I notice it, I remember that great Ramones concert, the crushing pressure I would feel off and on against the stage and Dee Dee Ramone crushing my hand!

Throughout the concert, I would get smashed hard enough against the stage that, in my frustration, I would with the heels of my hands push off the stage to give me some space. Near the end of the concert, I got pushed hard and angerly pushed back, but my right hand slipped this time just as Dee Dee jumped and landed on my hand. The pain wasn’t immediate; it was more like a shock. All I remember was pulling my hand back fast and dropping it down to my side. The ache would come a minute later. By the time I got my car and was trying to find the Bay Bridge entrance, my hand was killing me.

The pain was becoming unbearable when that beautiful sign on I-80 appeared in the distance, “Pinole Next Exit.” Anyone from my area going home from a late night Bay Area concert or sporting event back in those days knew what that meant: Jack in the Box at Pinole was the only fast food joint that had a 24-hour drive-thru. If you missed the Pinole Jack in the Box you were screwed, you wouldn’t be eating until you get home. I bought a large Coke with extra ice, hold the Coke and drove home with the cup in between my legs gingerly icing my DeeDeefied hand. This while my ears rang.

Dee Dee gave me a purple and yellow bruise that would last for over a week. By the time it was gone, I had missed it. Not the pain–hell no! The idea of it was cool, but I don’t believe I ever got that close again.

In the same year, I saw The Ramones; I attended an Iggy Pop concert in a small venue at the University of California, Davis. The crowd was mostly comprised of what I believe were college students. I remember wishing I got there a little earlier since the stage couldn’t have been any higher than two feet and I would have had a full view of “The Ig” himself. Instead, I was about two or three student types from the stage. Because of the little stage, this meant I would only see Iggy’s upper torso at times, only his head at others.

I was kicking myself for not getting their earlier when Iggy suddenly took the stage and introduced himself by coughing up a big lunger and launching it my way. The oblong green glob careened through the air right at me, but then dropped, landing on the right shoulder of the guy standing in front of me–right on his cashmere sweater. (I told you it was a college crowd!)

The concert went on. Iggy, gyrating to the songs from his new album New Values, some classic Stooges material, and the solo stuff in between. The undergraduate occasionally looking at Iggy’s loogie on his shoulder. I thought if I were one man closer I would have got it right between the running lights. Later in the show, Iggy pulled out his dog and dice. Why? I have no idea. I didn’t see his undercarriage. I didn’t get there in time for a better spot–so I could see Iggy Pop’s junk? Sometimes it better just to sit back and enjoy the show from a comfortable–not to mention safe–distance.

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