Memories of Cincinnati
brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Sun Dec 19 06:35:15 CST 2004
>From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at:
On the Arts: Meet the new loss, same as the old loss
Sunday, December 19, 2004
By Allan Walton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For several years, I pounded a typewriter by day (yes,
I'm that old) and a set of drums by night. Smooshed
between rock star dreams and the need for sustenance,
I looked for every opportunity to combine the two and
make a buck.
So, at my first daily newspaper back in Ohio, I became
the de facto rock music critic. It was a glorious
task, if you can call it that, and was both personally
and professionally edifying, a musician/journalist
reviewing the headliners of the day -- Kiss, Rod
Stewart, The Who ...
Ahh, The Who. Just a year after Keith Moon's death,
Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle were
on tour, with Kenny Jones in the dubious position of
having to fill in for Moon. They were headed to
Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum and, even without the
drummer I'd idolized as a kid in the '60s, the band
oozed greatness. This was a concert not to be missed,
and the newspaper saw to it that I had credentials.
It was 25 years ago this month. And for reasons as
obvious as rain in Pittsburgh, it's a silver
anniversary outfitted in black.
Death shared the stage that night, the result of a
series of missteps by promoters, arena officials, even
a member of the band's road crew. The ignominious term
"festival seating" became common parlance. Lawsuits
raged as parents and loved ones mourned. In sad
reflection of Daltrey's stuttering shriek and
Townshend's bitter lyrics, 11 people died before they
The date was Dec. 3, 1979. It occupies my mind now not
so much because of the remembrances in various mags
and on Web sites, but because we endured another
tragedy 10 days ago when an obviously sick "fan"
gunned down guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and
three others in a Columbus club, then died himself
when a policeman fired back. It's a club -- the Alrosa
Villa -- I'm familiar with from my own playing days.
Abbott made his rep in Pantera, a metal band that
reached its zenith in the '90s. But he was touring
with his new group, Damageplan, and he was just a week
removed from a Pittsburgh show when Death jumped on
No, there aren't any direct comparisons to be drawn
from bookend shows in a quarter-century span of rock.
But a lot can be said of an environment that doesn't
always police itself appropriately.
Less than two years ago, I put together a column in
the aftermath of a Rhode Island club inferno that
snuffed nearly 100 lives. It reminded me of my own
days on stage and the pyrotechnics we used -- a fire
catastrophe in waiting. I wrote then that I was
surprised it had taken so long for a tragedy of such
And the shooting rampage in Columbus, one could argue,
is the result of a cultural climate in which fans and
celebrities alike have blurred the lines that
distinguish them. This is an age when everyone has
access to a spotlight. Not long ago, cable network E!
celebrated paparazzi in their own show, for heaven's
sake. And through reality programs the likes of
"American Idol," every second-rate singer feels an
entitlement that doesn't -- or shouldn't -- exist.
Just last month in Detroit, fans and their NBA idols
exchanged punches, profanities and worse.
What leads us to believe any of this will go away?
I don't have an answer. I just know that I worry about
my kids when they go clubbing, take in a concert or go
to a ballgame.
But then, maybe that's nothing new.
The night of that Who concert, I had the press
privilege of entering the Coliseum through a private
entrance. I didn't know until after the concert -- nor
did most of the thousands inside, including The Who --
that the first few notes of a sound check, much later
than usual because a roadie overslept, had triggered a
rush to the gates. Because festival seating accords
the best floor seats on a first-come, first-served
basis, many of those fans had camped out overnight to
preserve their spot in line.
The rush to the entrance was overwhelming, and the
doors were locked. People were lifted from their feet,
cries of anguish muffled as the surge of excitement
changed to horror. Eleven lost souls -- most having
suffocated -- were left lying outside an arena where,
in deference to entertainment's cardinal rule, the
show went on.
Afterward, those of us who came to see a concert
exited to the shocking details of the disaster that
was its warm-up act. There were no cell phones, no
laptop computers -- only impersonal radio and TV
reports. When I got home, the phone was ringing. Yes,
my parents were worried. And siblings. And friends.
Only after those phone calls did I sit down and
compose a lead for the afternoon newspaper that gave
me a date with infamy: "This was supposed to be a
concert review, but you don't review tragedy."
Two years ago, Cincinnati removed its two-decade-old
ban on festival seating, and other cities --
Pittsburgh included -- allow the same questionable
practice. That, coupled with the obsessive nature of
some in a time of cultural incoherence, tells me we
may be dusting off that lead before too long.
At least my kids will have cell phones at the ready to
spare me the dread of waiting for news.
-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!
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