Filler Confessions Of A Middle-Aged Mosher

How The Mosh Pit Changed My View Of Generation X.
By Andrew Reding

MOSHING IS A menace to public health; it's punk rock's exhilarating defiance of gravity--it depends on who you ask. There's a well-publicized campaign underway right now to outlaw moshing at rock concerts. As a 42-year-old alternative rock enthusiast, I tend to be on the side of the "punks" (most of whom are half my age).

Music I'll admit. Moshing is not for the faint of heart--whatever your age. In the first place, it's something of a contact sport, a definite physical high. Participants catapult and boomerang against each other, slamming one another around the mosh pit like billiard balls in a free-wheeling melee. The melee temporarily subsides as moshers lift a partner overhead, and pass the "surfer" across the pit on a conveyer belt of outstretched arms. Daredevils hop on-stage with the band, then jump or dive into the pit. Their fellow moshers catch them in mid-air, breaking their fall and raising them to surf the crowd.

Obviously there's risk of serious injury. Television news and tabloid shows have sensationalized the risks, presenting them as commonplace: a young woman trampled to death after a fall; a young man turned paraplegic when moshers failed to break his dive. Is it not time, critics ask, to ban moshing at rock concerts?

However alarming, the injuries are anything but typical. In the few dozen times I've moshed, no one has been hurt. In fact, unlike real contact sports, in which players routinely try to injure each other, the aim of moshing is to look after your fellow moshers. When participants lose their footing, moshers clear a space and give them a hand up; when someone dives from the stage, everyone focuses on catching him or her. "We're all in this together," as a teen in baggy shorts and T-shirt proudly shouted to me during a recent foray.

Moshing has given me a different perspective on a generation--"Generation X"--widely derided as uncaring. When I mosh at alternative rock concerts in my neighboring town of Fort Myers, Florida, scores of teens and twenty-somethings give me thumbs up and high fives. They delight in having someone their parents' age appreciate their music and join their ritual, and they take special care in looking after me.

There is no generation gap in the mosh-pit. Had a middle-aged guy tried to mingle with teens at a 1950s sock-hop, he would have provoked a "What are you doing here, Pops?" My generation went a step further, with the admonition not to trust anyone over 30. My moshing companions, on the other hand, embrace friendly cross-generational contact--a counterpoint to the harassment many say they get from parents and police alarmed by their unfamiliar music, behavior and appearance.

Incomes are low in southwest Florida, and many moshers come from less than traditional backgrounds. They can look and act rough. One guy I met had done time in prison. And there are the usual share of losers who use moshing as an opportunity to vent their aggression. But that's part of life, and moshing is nothing if not a metaphor for life. Time and again, I've seen rough-looking guys take responsibility for others, protecting them when someone else gets out of hand.

What is it about moshing that brings out some of the best in people? A crucial element, I believe, is the almost total absence of posturing and affectation. Dancing is not segregated by couples. There is little cause for envy or jealousy since no one's left out. Think of it as a junior prom turned inside out.

Moshing is communal without requiring conformity. There are few rules, other than to accept responsibility for the fate of one's fellow moshers. There is no discrimination, because one can't choose partners. True, the physical contact entails risks, but those risks lead to countless little miracles. For me moshing is more than a dance--it's a life- and community-affirming sacrament.

A version of this article originally appeared in YO! (Youth Outlook), a Pacific News Service publication out of San Francisco, CA. TW

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