I love to read good writing. The subject matter doesn’t even matter much. When the writing is lively and evocative, when it has style and flair, the prose is its own reward.
Unfortunately, I don’t read as much as I used to back before I began messing with this blog. But yesterday I read two things that were really good; part of why they’re good is that both writers use short, punchy sentences and phrases. They have a cadence, like a drum beat. I try to remember this lesson in my own writing, but for some perverse reason I continually forget it. What made both essays even more striking is that the authors — John Hyduk and Randy Blythe — aren’t people whose main occupation is writing.
One of the pieces is hilarious. The other is powerfully moving. The first one has nothing to do with metal, the other is very much about metal. I’m putting both of the articles right in this post.
I think I’ll start with the funny piece first. A fellow sufferer in the decade-long woe of the Seattle Mariners baseball team sent me the link. You’ll probably understand why if you read it (misery loves company). The author is a man named John Hyduk. As you’ll see, he works the graveyard shift for a beverage distributor outside Cleveland, Ohio. In his words, he’s “a yard monkey, climbing around inside semitrailers in the dark with a flashlight, checking pallet tickets against the product loaded, matching invoices . . . making the world safe for carbonated refreshment.” He writes as a hobby, or maybe he actually collects some extra money in doing so, I don’t know. He’s good enough that one of his essays got him nominated for a 2012 National Magazine Award.
It helps to be a U.S. sports fan to appreciate the Hyduk article below. It probably helps even more to be from Ohio. But I don’t think those are necessary conditions to enjoying this piece. However, I will provide this information: The Indians play baseball, the Browns are a football team, and the Cavaliers dabble in basketball. They are all hometown teams in Cleveland.
Randy Blythe is the author of the second article. He posted it yesterday on his Tumblr blog, Randonesia. Randy Blythe’s principal occupation is making music, mainly as the frontman for Lamb of God. Since this is a metal blog, I won’t waste time explaining who Lamb of God are or providing background about Randy Blythe’s trial (and exoneration) in the Czech Republic on criminal charges that he caused the death of a fan at a LoG concert — a fan who stage-dived during a show and hit some unforgiving concrete.
It helps to be a metalhead to appreciate Blythe’s piece; he has a lot to say that’s directly relevant to our scene. But I don’t think that’s a necessary condition to being moved by his essay. In this instance, the subject matter itself, especially his meeting with the family of the fan who died and its effect on him, adds inherent poignancy and power to the words.
So here they are. John Hyduk’s essay originally appeared in The New York Times (they charge for the right to re-use their published material, and I paid them). UPDATE: my paid license to re-post the piece has expired, so you’ll have to find it on the NY Times site now.
By RANDY BLYTHE
When I was a little boy, just learning to talk and still figuring out the intricacies of the English language, I would caution others to “be carefully”. Little kids say the funniest things, and they say these things with the sincerity and urgency of those whose possess an extremely limited vocabulary. I don’t remember ever saying “be carefully”, but my 92 year old grandmother loves to tell me about it.
“I would be getting in the car to go to the grocery store, and you would look at me and say ‘Be carefully, Grandma!’ You were such a funny child.” she laughs.
I love my Grandma. She was the first person I saw at the airport when I was released from prison, in the front of a crowd, up past midnight and her bedtime, a tiny 92 year old country woman standing on her own two feet, waiting to see one of her family walking free in his home country. I hugged her, told her I loved her, and scolded her for being up so late. And I go see her now as often as I can. I get to hug her, kiss her cheek, tell her I love her, smell her hair, and listen to her wisdom. It fills me with a happiness I cannot describe when I look at her hands, the hands that cooked me so many meals for as long as I can remember. She is beautiful to me. I am lucky she is in my life, and she is so happy I am in hers, not in a prison in a foreign land. We get to be together, as family is supposed to be, and my life is full.
I am a very lucky man.
If you are reading this, more than likely you were directed here by a link on some heavy metal news site. That means that more than likely you know who I am, what I do for a living, and why I went to prison and then to trial for manslaughter in the Czech Republic earlier this year and last. This also probably means that you are part of my extended music family, and in all likelihood have seen either my band or at least one other band of the metal/punk/hardcore/hard rock genre perform in concert before. You have witnessed the kind of activity that occurs at these shows, and maybe even have participated yourself at some point. Moshing, slam dancing, crowd surfing, and stage diving- these things are a unique part of our scene; the ways some of us express ourselves, shed our cares for an hour or two, and enjoy this music that makes us feel so alive. I grew up in the punk/hardcore scene doing all of the above mentioned things, and I have the lumps, aches, and scars to prove it. I am just like you, just probably a little older and uglier.
When I returned to Prague for trial, answering the charge of killing a young man named Daniel Nosek who was a fan of my band, one of the biggest hurdles I and my legal team faced was attempting to explain the atmosphere of a heavy metal show, trying to get across to three Czech judges how smashing into other people and flying through the air over a crowd in the hopes of being caught was a normal thing. From the perspective of folks who are not a part of our scene, these seem to be the actions of insane people.
“Why would anyone do such a thing? You could be severely injured.”
Over and over throughout my trial, the witnesses and myself were asked if we knew what “stage diving” and “moshing” were, then asked to explain these things. Slowly, through a translator and with the help of videos we put together, we tried our best to show that the aggressive nature of our music and other bands like mine was not an expression of malice. My character was questioned again and again, several witnesses saying ludicrous things like how my quick onstage movements, my deep voice, my profuse sweating, and how I dumped water over my head (astoundingly, I do it because I’m sweaty and hot) was clearly evidence of the fact that I was drunk, on some sort of drugs, and yes, even evil. I was sober as a judge that night, thank God, and I know I never intended anyone harm, otherwise I would not have been able to fight for my freedom. I would have had to tell the judges “I do not know what happened. Maybe I did try to hurt this man. I just do not know. I cannot remember- I was drunk.” As a sober, responsible adult, my conscious would not have allowed otherwise.
Sober or not, convincing these judges that our show and others like it aren’t some sort violently nihilistic orgy of hate and self-destruction took a little doing. Explaining via a state supplied translator what you and I take for granted as people having fun at a show was one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced. It was like trying to tell a person who has been blind from birth what the color purple looks like. People outside of our scene cannot be expected to understand the way we act at shows without a lengthy explanation, and even then they may just think you are crazy. But in the end I was exonerated, and I am a free man as of this moment.
The family of Daniel Nosek never attacked me in the press. They never wished me ill, either publicly or privately. They did not smear my name in front of any judge, prosecutor, or police officer, did not stare at me malevolently in the court room. For this I am eternally grateful to them. I certainly would understand if they had, and would have made no attempt to dissuade them from holding a low opinion of me, for all they knew about me was what the Czech press had initially published- a picture of me as a barbaric murderous American with evil intent. I know what it feels like to hold my dead child in my arms. The emotions one goes through are absolutely indescribable. If I had had a finger to point at someone for taking my daughter from me, I probably would have, especially if there had been the sort of media circus that surrounded my arrest.
Daniel’s family did not point any fingers at me. They just wanted to know the truth of what had happened to their son, so they came to court and listened as I did my best to provide them with what I knew. Before the verdict was delivered, the uncle of Daniel (who was the family’s representative in court) told the judge that no amount of money was going to bring their boy back, and after hearing the evidence, withdrew the family’s motion against me for damages. He also wanted me to know that Daniel had died on his father’s birthday, and that Daniel’s mother had been unable to function at her job since Daniel’s death.
That was it. They didn’t want anything from me in that courtroom except for me to understand how this had affected them. There was no malice, just the real, honest, pain that I was already regrettably so familiar with. It was one of the most amazing displays of strength and dignity I have ever witnessed.
When the verdict was read, that I had been exonerated, I tried my best to act with dignity, to show no emotion. Perhaps one day I will be able to express what I felt when I finally learned I was to remain free, but right now I am still trying to understand it. Relief, certainly, but there was a greater part welling up in me, something like disbelief saturated with a deep sadness. A fan of my band was dead, and a family had been shattered. I did not feel like celebrating. I did not feel like going home. I did not feel like staying. I did not know what to do or where to go. It was all very overwhelming. Thankfully, Daniel’s family had provided me with one last task before I left Prague. His uncle had asked me earlier that day if we could meet privately after the trial. This was a request I was more than willing to honor. Arrangements were made, and I left court to prepare to meet with him and Daniel’s mother.
I cannot tell you what it is like to look into the eyes of a mother whose son is dead as result of attending a concert by your group, his favorite band. I cannot tell you what it is like to hold her tiny hands as she weeps for her dead boy; to hold those hands in your large hands, the same hands accused of killing her son. I cannot tell you in any words what it’s like to feel that grief for her lost only child pouring off of her small frame in a massive dark wave of sorrow, to see that pain again in another, so visceral that your body shakes with the awful power and totality of it. These are things that mere words will never be able to convey.
Certain details of the conversation I had with Daniel’s uncle and mother I will never write about, because I do not feel it would be proper or respectful. Suffice it say, they were very kind to me, and let me know they didn’t have any sort of vendetta against me, or wish to see me to suffer further because of Daniel’s death. But there are two things they said that I will write about here, because I think that it is in accordance with the only two things his family ever asked of me.
As we sat on a couch crying, the first tears I had allowed myself since my arrest, Daniel’s mother asked me if one day I would play a song for him somewhere. I was astounded by the grace with which she asked me this. Her small request was an immense gift to me, a man who was trying to figure out how he would continue to do the only thing he knew how to do after so many years.
I will sing many songs for him.
Then, as Daniel’s uncle and mother began to leave my rented apartment, his uncle reiterated something he and the mother had brought up earlier.
“Remember- you can be a spokesperson for safer shows. You have that power. Good luck, man. Go live your life.”
I promised I would.
And so they left me, to return to their town to try and rebuild their lives the best they could. I walked into the apartment and continued to fall apart. I don’t remember how long I cried, or what happened over the next two or three hours. But I remembered their words.
In a day, I will leave for the first tour lamb of god has done since my trial finished. This is part of my attempt to make good on a promise I made to the family of a dead fan of my band.
If you are in a band, remember what has happened to me, to Daniel, and to his family. If you are playing a show, make sure that security is adequate and that barricades are properly placed. A dead fan of my band would still be alive today if those two things had been in place in Prague that night in 2010. I never saw that stage before I set foot on it, and I wish I could go back in time, inspect that nightmare set up, let the people in charge know that they did not fulfill a vital part of the contract we sent out, tell my crew to pull our gear out of there, and leave that town. But I cannot go back in time, I never had the chance to see that stage, Daniel is dead, and I can only warn you band guys and girls to make sure the venue and promoter are holding up their end of the contract. Do not settle for less. This is a matter of life and death, as I can sadly attest.
If you are a promoter or club manager/owner, make sure your security and barricades are sufficient for the event you will be having on any given night. Security is there to protect the band, the fans, and your business. If you cannot provide a safe environment for a show that requires security and barricades, do not have it. You have no business playing around with people’s lives for a few extra dollars. No amount of money is worth the risk of someone dying in your establishment. Your club will probably shut down anyway, because no one will want to play there. All of us in bands talk amongst each other, and if you’re shady, we will all eventually know.
If you are a fan coming to a Lamb of God show and are planning on stage diving, know that in no uncertain terms you are not welcome on our stage. Some bands encourage fans on stage- I know a few, and that is their prerogative. As a band we have never allowed or encouraged fans to come onstage- it’s impossible to play and dangerous for us and the fans if someone is running all over the place knocking into us and the equipment. Now, with all that has happened, this policy is in place more than ever. Absolutely no one is welcome on the stage if we have not invited you up there, and unless you are a small child or in a wheel chair, that is not likely to happen. Please respect this. If you do take the stage, we will immediately stop playing, you will be removed from the stage with great swiftness ,and thrown out of the show with no refund, no questions asked. I do not care one bit if anyone thinks I’m being a jerk for writing this or feels I am being harsh. I have been through hell over the last year, I did my best to do the right thing, I am still trying my best to do the right thing, and anyone who cannot understand why we as a band feel this way is a complete and utter idiot who probably shouldn’t be allowed to leave their house anyway. So try not to ruin everybody else’s good time, ok? People pay their hard earned money to see a show, not you interrupt a band’s set while you make jackass out of yourself. You buying a ticket does not entitle you to get on stage.
If you are a fan and are going to a lamb of god show or ANY SHOW where there will be moshing, crowd surfing, etc.- know that what you are doing carries a risk. Use your brain- if it is too rough for you, get out before you get hurt. If you are wasted on whatever, please realize that you are not a stuntman, sit your ass down at the bar, and relax. Being obliterated is not conducive to injury free concert activities. Also, for Pete’s sake, if you are moshing and someone falls down, PICK THEM UP. We have stopped shows before because people have been getting hurt, and we will do it again. This is our community, and we should take care of each other. A show is a place we are supposed to be together, having a good time, supporting one another. The real world will beat you down enough- we don’t need to get stomped on at a show. Give each other a hand.
If you want to crowd surf, know this- if someone drops you, you could die. Instantly. That’s just the truth. I don’t know any other way to say it.
Please don’t drive home if you are drunk. Assuming you don’t die, you could kill someone else and wind up in prison. Prison is not a fun place to be. Just take my word on it, ok?
I am not writing all of this to tell people to not have fun, to not get out aggression in a healthy way, or to be a joy kill. I’m not telling you what to do (except to stay off our stage), because that does no good. Plus, I have more scars and badly healed aching bones from shows than I can count. I am just like you, a fan of this music who loves to have a good time at a show. I’m just begging you please to use your head and to be respectful of others. I love the energy of a good show, I love providing the fans with the same cathartic release I’ve gotten from watching bands so many times, I love leaving it all on the floor for the people. It’s what I do, and I love it.
I do not love the fact that a fan of my band will never watch the sunset again like I did today. I do not love the fact that he will never get to spend time with his family again, like I have been doing over the last two months. I do not love the fact that he will never get the chance to marry a good woman one day, like I have done. I do not love the fact that his branch of the family name will die with him, as he was an only child. I do not love the fact that his family hurts more than anyone who hasn’t lost a child can ever imagine.
I do not love the fact that he will never listen to music again.
I did not know Daniel, but I have been told he was a good kid. Now he is dead. Gone. In a split second, he headed for his grave.
I hate these things. This young man’s family does not want this to happen to someone else. Neither do I. Please, please, please- I am begging you on my knees…