Early nineties. Late teens. The time in life where you’re just starting to figure out that you can go places and do things; that you have limitless options. The idea both terrified and exhilarated you. And, you’re a punk.
One of your bands was playing in DC. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. You got tickets for you and your 15-year-old girlfriend. Her parents wouldn’t let her drive to DC with you, so they drove her and her friends and you met there. You went with your friends. You’d never driven all the way into DC before.
First person. We got to the show and had to wait outside. This was before I realized that rock shows never start on time, so the only people in line were the other punk kids who had also not realized this. And my beautiful, dyed hair army jacket girlfriend.
And it was cold. REAL cold. Mid-winter cold. DC outside a club cold. An hour went by, and I’d do anything to stay warm. One of my friends was smoking, which I didn’t then. Maybe a cigarette would keep me warm.
So I lit up. Coughed through the first one. That didn’t help much, so maybe a second. Then a third. I thought I looked pretty cool – filthy dreadlocks, black leather jacket hung with rings and chains, band tee, paratrooper boots, smoking Camel lights. I don’t actually remember my girlfriend not liking the smoking, but in retrospect…
The show opened. The first band was somebody called Pearl Jam. No one had heard of them, so I pretty much ignored it completely.
But the second band was the Smashing Pumpkins. I had heard of them. They were great. Billy Corgan still had long hair, guitarist James Iha was actually Asian and bass player D’Arcy was a girl! For an early nineties band, that was all pretty cool. They played that one song, the “I just want to get there faster” one. I danced and moshed, and loved it. I also had a few more cigs.
The Chili Peppers came on, and the place went crazy. The mosh pit was something like a battlefield, a wide whirlpool of swirling bodies and swinging arms. My girlfriend went right to the front barrier by the stage and I was in the mix. If you went up on the shoulders of the crowd, they’d pass you forward into the security pit under the stage and funnel you back around into the crowd.
I went up and over, and landed directly in front of my girlfriend. We grabbed each other over the security barrier and kissed. The guards tore us apart and threw me back into the crowd. You’re lucky to get those peak moments in life.
But suddenly things went from good to bad. I didn’t feel so well. Dizzy, light-headed. The combination of cold, extreme exercise, half a dozen cigarettes and young love were taking their toll. I felt very, very sick. For some reason, I decided to go back into the security pit, I guess thinking they could move me outside. So back onto the crowd, and thrown into the hole.
“I feel sick” I said faintly, and felt it. I must have looked it too, because they didn’t take me out, they took me backstage. They must have thought I was tweaking out on something. I was looking straight down retching. They sat me at the end of a sofa, and I stared at my boots, trying not to die.
Several minutes passed, and I was breathing a little better. I managed to not vomit all over myself, and nobody knows how close I came to punking out. So I raised my head and looked at who else was sitting on the sofa.
Directly to my right was James Iha. Beside him was Billy Corgan. Beside him was D’Arcy. The Smashing Pumpkins. A band about to crack into the stratosphere of superfame. And they were all three looking over at me, with the same expression.
Is there a word for a look of extreme disgust, sneering hostility and a slight wind of fear? Fear that I would vomit ON them, not fear OF me. That’s the look I got.
I made eye contact with Billy Corgan, and this was what he did. He quickly shook his head, just a little, and looked straight ahead. I believe I heard a soft snicker. I decided to look back at my boots. I waited a few more minutes and quickly scurried back out into the crowd.
The show ended. I kissed my girlfriend quickly by her parents’ minivan and started the long drive back to Baltimore. On 695, I pulled over and staggered into the grass, dry heaving and fell onto my hands and knees.
There I knelt, with my forehead to the ground, my car still playing a punk rock song on the cassette deck, the traffic roaring behind me and the stars and the future swirling overhead.