The bar was vibrating with bass as people pushed their way past each other, personal space nonexistent in a place this crowded. My cousins and I were one of the lucky few to find a couch. As I sipped my overpriced vodka-tonic, I could see the shape of people dancing through the synthetic mist. Their movement hypnotic, I tried not to stare at an individual person, but at the crowd as a whole. I blurred my eyes and the shapes started to look less like bodies, but blended together like ants climbing their way into the same small hill. The lucid movement of their silhouette and the heat of the bar reaching maximum capacity made my mind wander. I got up to force my way through the crowd with ease. I’m used to it. I pushed past someone and got a particularly nasty look. It was that twisted nose, raised eyebrow, “you-touched-my-arm-and-now-I-may-die,” kind of look that is standard at a bar, but would be a dead give away that you were new to a show. At shows you couldn’t look at someone like that. I would push my way past people there and they wouldn’t even notice, as long as you didn’t knock them down. Hell, even when you knocked them down, it was usually all right. I made it to the solidarity of a quiet bathroom and splashed my face with water. My mind’s eye continued to navigate back to the twisted indignation of the stranger’s face, then up and out of the bar, over a few blocks, and back 7 years landing firmly at The Fireside Bowl.
The energy was alive at a show, palpable. Just going is not the same. It’s the difference between sitting in on a church service and being a lifelong Christian. You don’t know unless you live it. Unity is a cliché here, but it was. Unity. Skinheads, hardcore kids (before hardcore kids even knew they were hardcore kids), punks, ska kids (when ska was in fashion, before hardcore became the new ska), riot grrls - all of them. Everyone would stand at attention, an army ready to dance. There’d usually be a fight, but it never got bad. The band would come on and the static from the amps was like an audible spark to the powder keg of people filled with potential energy - a rock at the top of a hill, and someone just pushed it. The song would hit like a brick through a window and we were the shards of glass moving in every direction. It was like that bowling alley was built for us to sing and dance and scream and fight and throw our fist in the air and for a second have somewhere to go, something to believe in.
When the music stopped, the audience left post-coital, their voices hoarse and throats raw; it wasn’t over. There’d be parties or trying to figure out how to get home. Sometimes we’d hitchhike, sometimes take the El. There weren’t rules then. It was better than bars and overpriced vodka-tonics. It was the kind of freedom that can only come with being 15 and having nowhere else to go. I dried my face off and reluctantly opened the door back into the reality of adulthood.