It’s strange being one of the oldest people working security at a music venue.
I am often shocked when some of the younger security staff have never heard of the headlining band. I’ll click into Professor mode and explain to them what kind of musical genre they are, what their big song was, why they are famous, and what the crowd demographic will be like. These bands are a huge part of my musical heritage and I saw them in concert way back in the 90s. It hurts my heart that my coworkers don’t know who they are and initially wrote them off as ‘old people’s music.’ I do get the fun of dropping some of the concerts I’ve seen from bands they love. When I tell them that I saw Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains (with their original singer Layne Staley) and Tool at Lollapalooza in 1993, their jaws drop and they turn green with envy. I don’t even bother telling them how cheap the concert tickets were back then.
Another surreal moment is when some current popular band is playing a cover and my coworkers think it is an original song. I try to explain with a minimum of condescension that it is actually a Pink Floyd song, or a Led Zeppelin song, or a song from The Pixies. I whisper, “They didn’t write that song. A band called Depeche Mode wrote it.” Or details like, “No, that’s not a New Order song, it’s a Joy Division song. That was the band that New Order was before. Ever heard of Ian Curtis?” Once a coworker honestly did not know who Bruce Springsteen was. I went on a rant. “WHAT? Bruce Springsteen? He’s THE BOSS! Even if you don’t own his records, which you should, you’ve definitely heard his songs all over the place. You know his name because he is a pop-culture icon of great songwriting for almost five decades. How in the unholy hell do you not know who Bruce fucking Springsteen is?!?” Sorry that they even said anything, the coworker skulked away embarrassed, and I later apologized.
Lots of security shifts are just us standing around waiting for something to happen. Waiting for people to come in, waiting for them to act up, waiting for them to leave, etc. We pass those hours talking about nothing and everything; from silly pop-culture references to deep philosophical discussions. You can get to know your coworkers better than your own spouse in some ways because you spend more time with them at work talking.
I’m a huge cinema buff. So I always talk about movies and quote them. A typical evening’s conversation might go something like this:
Me: 1994 was one of the greatest years for cinema. Seriously, you have so many films that imprinted on our cultural psyche and influenced every film of it’s genre that came after it. Evidence: Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, The Crow, Leon: The Professional, Clerks, and perhaps the motherlode movie of that year, The Shawshank Redemption. You cannot fuck with 1994 when it comes to cinema, you just can’t. I saw all of those movies in theaters and can say that each one totally blew me away. 1994 was a banner year for great films.
Coworker: I agree! 1994 was unbeatable for movies. I had to watch all of those on BluRay though. Because I wasn’t even alive yet.
Me: You weren’t alive in 1994?
Coworker: Nope, hahahah.
At this point I usually hobble away with my walker, grab my bottle of prune juice, put in my dentures, and make a slow beeline to my retired people’s bingo game. Christ, I’m old. Luckily I don’t particularly look my age. “When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good, you will not.” -Yoda
Back in 1994 I was a grown man attending college. I was living in Eugene, playing drums in a rock band, and working at my first real job in my field. I hadn’t lived with my parents for years at this point. And my beloved coworkers who have my back in some pretty intense situations on a nightly basis…..weren’t even a sparkle in their father’s eyes yet. In fact, I am literally old enough to be most of their fathers. Had I been less scrupulous in my sexual activity and not been completely neurotic about using condoms, I could have fathered most of my security team here today.
Daddy Darren and his progeny team reporting for duty.
These people are what we refer to as ‘The Talent.” Band members and performers that end up onstage that people pay money to watch. One night will be a beloved artist that I’ve been a fan of for decades, that I can’t believe I’m being paid to watch perform. The next night will be a new artist completely unknown to me, who has a huge young following from their Instagram page. All the songwriters, singers, guitarists, drummers, bass players, horn players, and keyboardists. The dramatic spoken word artists, comedians, rappers, DJs, and performance artists. The gorgeous and poised burlesque performers, dancers, aerialists, go-go dancers, models on the catwalk, fire performers, contortionists, stilt walkers, and strippers.
These are the music lovers. The super fans. Obsessive worshippers of musical artists. The people who drive for hours to come to our fine city, wait in line for hours to get into the concert first, and claim their spot at the front of the barricade. The people who meticulously study every song lyric, and know when a song is being performed differently live than it is on the album. People that pay extra for a VIP Meet and Greet where they get to have a few seconds with the artist, and get a photo and an autograph. The people who write heartfelt letters or paint personal artwork to give to the performer. I was this guy in my twenties and thirties. Without these dedicated music aficionados none of this machinery can work.
These are the people behind the scenes that make it all happen. These people get the shows booked months in advance, promote the shows, and get the artists paid out when it’s over. The band managers, tour managers, promoters, publicity people, and booking agents or talent buyers. Friendly merchandise people trying to get you to sign their email list and buy a limited edition shirt with a CD. Hospitality staff that provides special requests for food and drink, and deals with some pretty huge egos. Professional photographers documenting the concert, and videographers making a music video or a documentary. Makeup artists, costume designers, wardrobe specialists. Box office staff selling tickets or offering refunds with a smile. Roadies, stagehands, riggers, lighting designers, sound engineers, and Front of House engineers making the show look and sound like a professional concert. The venue bartenders that keep the alcohol flowing, the cooks that make the food in a big hurry, the servers and dishwashers working behind the scenes. Bus drivers. Stage Managers, Production managers. Bouncers, door staff, and security personnel. It’s essentially a whole army dedicated to making the show go perfectly with no problems or glitches.
These are the people that float around the events but never get inside to enjoy them. They do benefit from the proximity, like pilot fish swimming just under a shark. Pilot fish have always fascinated me, as they eat parasites and leftovers from the shark, but are too small and harmless to be noticed by the shark. Ticket scalpers fall into this category. Some of them have been doing this for decades and have a good working relationship with the box office staff. These outliers are also the homeless people, transients, the mentally ill, and the tweakers. They’re hoping to get free food or money to help them survive. They know that huge crowds of people will be congregated outside of our doors for hours prior to the show, and then for the exodus after the show. Some of these people are bound to give them a dollar or two on their way out, so it’s a good spot to situate themselves.
This is the support system that deals with everybody and everything as it happens. The people who don’t work at the venue but show up to help with potentially life-threatening issues like strokes, heart attacks, and overdoses. Also severe situations like fights, accidents, various physical injuries, or even stabbings and shootings. This is when the vehicles with the candy-lights show up. The Portland Police, Paramedics, Firefighters, CHIERS (Central City Concern Hooper Inebriate Emergency Response Service). Leading EMTs deep into the venue through the crowd to find the patron passed out on the ground is a surreal experience. And once we pass off a situation to them, it’s completely out of our hands.
Everybody gets nicknames, from the unique patrons to the staff. It’s almost always applied with affection and respect. Here are the more memorable nicknames that have been given to me at various music venues.
D Dawg Money
My be-dreadlocked water Viking
Diamond Dallas Page
The People’s Champion
Big Poppa Pump
Most of those have obvious origins, mainly related to my name or my hair. But I particularly liked Goblin Wall. Not only does it sound like a Dungeons and Dragons spell, but it makes you ask the reasoning behind it. A coworker at the barcade I work at gave me this name. He sees me keeping out all of the sketchy tweaker goblin-like people trying to come inside. Hence, I am the wall preventing the goblins access inside. In my most noble and honorable vision, I am the wall of Helm’s Deep keeping the goblins and orcs out of our sanctuary. It also would make a hell of a good band name.
We also assign nicknames to patrons, unbeknownst to them. The absolute quickest way to verbally identify a person to another security staff, or over the radio, is to use some unique feature that nobody can miss. Or a fitting pop-culture reference works nicely. When you’re looking into a crowd of people, you need to draw attention to the most obvious feature so the other staff will instantly know who you are talking about. And pointing at people is never good; it tends to make people nervous and draws attention to the fact that you are targeting them. Some of the silly names we’ve unofficially assigned to people include:
Green dress side-boob
Handlebar mustache pornstar
Elven pouch hippie girl
Huge belt-buckle Republican
ZZ Top beard
Paris Hilton wannabe
The Mad Hatter
John Travolta on meth
Tie-dye shirt burnout
Molly (grinding her teeth)
Elder forest crone with young Stevie Nicks witch
Jarhead weekend cowboy
Hipster farmboy overalls
Old punk with weak mohawk
Go ahead and ask me if I’ve ever given you a nickname at work, I might just surprise you.
There are indeed certain cliches of people who work in music venues or bars in general. If this were a horror movie, these characters would be the tropes that you would expect and see coming from a mile away. The virgin who will undoubtedly be the first to die, the clever geek that figures out a weakness to exploit to combat the evil, the final girl. The following might be the modern service industry archetypes of all bar staff. They are instantly recognizable and perhaps universal.
Male bartender: Plays in a death metal band and is just working as a bartender until his band makes it big. He has long hair and wears a black leather jacket even in the summer. I’ve never seen him wear shorts, only ripped jeans. He takes approximately thirty breaks a shift to smoke cigarettes. He considers all the women who come in the bar as potential sexual conquests, flowers in a field for him to pluck. He will totally back you up if a fight breaks out.
Female bartender: Works as a hair stylist or a stripper when she isn’t behind the bar or hostessing. Handles stress and crowds quite well with smiles and empty flirting. She’s been working here for so long that she’s just going to stay here until she’s the cool old rocker lady bartender with stories from decades ago. Uses her cleavage to broker bigger tips from customers. Usually tips out security staff better than anybody else.
Male bartender: He is in the theater or cabaret scene when not bartending. Flamboyantly gay and super fun to work with. Likes to get in verbal arguments with the janitor and dishwashers. Sometimes you can’t tell if these arguments are just for fun, or if they honestly are about to start throwing punches. Also considers every man who comes in as a potential sexual conquest, more flowers in a field to pluck. Isn’t great with conflict and will utilize security staff often.
Female bartender: Used to work as security and still acts like it. Yells most of the time, either at customers or coworkers. She is very comfortable cutting off customers. Keeps talking about quitting this stupid job, but never actually cuts the cord. But patrons over the age of 25 seem to like her, and she makes good drinks. New drinkers that are 21 are intimidated by her and shocked that she is so mean to customers. Covered in tattoos and piercings, get on her good side and don’t piss her off.
Kitchen cook: In a word, this is the diva. This line cook has achieved the title of kitchen manager and it has gone to their head. This one is perpetually stressed out and barking at everybody who enters their kitchen. They seem to think that they are working in a five star restaurant where waiters wear ties, instead of deep frying tater tots and grilling burgers in a dive bar. If you dare ask them for a side of ranch, prepare for the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. They probably have a drug problem, but should really just smoke pot so they will calm down and not overreact to everything.
Bartender: This one gets by on good looks, cocaine, and charm. They often screw up their orders and tickets, but they’re everybody’s friend so they get away with murder. They are taking classes at the Community College during the day, so they will ask to leave early often. But then they get caught doing drugs at work, taking money from the till, or stealing (or drinking) tequila from the bar. They were hired initially because they are somebody’s son or daughter. They become that story everybody tells from when so-and-so got fired and threw a fit on their way out. Don’t bother getting too attached to this one; they aren’t long for this place.
This job definitely gives me a police scanner view of people behaving at their worst. If you listen to a police scanner you’ll hear back to back calls involving break ins, trespassing, drunk and disorderly, sexual assault, multi-vehicle accident, stabbing, arson, domestic violence, vandalism, etc. Like you’re switching the channels on a television, except that none of the channels have anything positive on their programming. It’s all thrillers and horror movies, and not ones that you want to see. It’s overwhelming and numbing, and makes you feel like there is only violence and crimes happening constantly across your city.
Dealing with a drunk public as a bouncer or security staff is similar in that we primarily deal with the bad situations. And they often come in strings of back to back incidents. The only radio calls we hear are when something bad is happening, and we are the ones sent to deal with it. Virtually every single other staff person from bartenders to waiters will defer to us and ask us to handle any unsavory situation. So if we seem gruff, it’s because you may be the ninth ‘bad call’ we’ve responded to in the same shift.
Here are some of the nutty people that we deal with on a nightly basis. None of these people became violent or aggressive, they just weren’t the smartest people I’ve ever met. As some of my friends would say, “They just lacked the common sense that god gave a goat.”
Sketchy dude comes in and I ask to see his ID. He starts patting every pocket in his pants and shirt and coat over and over again, making a big act of looking for his ID. He doesn’t look at me or say anything, but just keeps patting all of his pockets for at least 30 seconds. He goes through the pattern of patting both front pockets, both back pockets, both chest shirt pockets, then all jacket pockets, then he starts over. Thirty seconds is honestly a very long time for me to just be staring at somebody who is failing to provide proper ID.
I already know at this point that I’m not letting him in, but I’m gonna see what he does. He then moves back to the door and starts rummaging through his backpack for his ID for at least another 30 seconds. Again, he fails to find any ID in there. “No luck?” No answer.
He walks back over to me and starts the pocket patting thing again, for 30 more long seconds. This whole interaction has gone on for almost two minutes now. I just keep watching him, smirking, until he finally discovers his wallet and pulls out an ID. Of course, it is a prison inmate identification card, which no establishment will accept as a valid ID. I tell the guy, “Sorry, that doesn’t work for legal ID. Do you have a driver’s license, military ID, or a passport?” He shook his head no. Of course he didn’t. I can only imagine what he would have done had I gotten to the part about paying a cover charge. He left and I laughed.
A guy came into our venue to buy a ticket for tonight’s show. I recognized him from the barcade I work in during the day, so I greeted him like a friend and made small talk for a bit. Working at two popular Portland landmarks has lots of benefits, and remembering people who patronize both places gives me a little shared history with them. He talked about how he had wanted to see this band for a long time and how excited he was to see them play, buying his ticket online the day they went on sale.
But this guy had trouble getting through the metal detectors. When we had him open his backpack we found a huge glass bottle of vodka. Not those plastic mini liquor bottles that college kids and cougars try to sneak in, but a huge fifth of vodka in a heavy glass bottle. There are almost 9 shots in a fifth of alcohol. This was a ridiculous thing to attempt to sneak past security. Obviously we don’t allow any glass inside, nor do we allow any beverage to come in, alcoholic or not. The door staff told him to go outside and pour all the alcohol out, then dispose of the glass.
I noticed that he was having far more trouble removing this bottle from his backpack than could be chalked up to being nervous or embarrassed. He had his backpack sitting on the sidewalk when the bottle slipped from his hands and fell back into the backpack, shattering upon impact. Now the inside of his backpack was soaked in cheap vodka and pieces of broken glass. The remainder of the vodka was all over the sidewalk, moving slowly across our entryway since the sidewalk is on a grade. When he tried to stand up he almost fell over the guardrail. This fool was drunk as a skunk. He presented well at the door, but once things started to go wrong, his inebriated status became apparent. I’ve seen people try to sneak a lot of things through the metal detectors and bag searches, but an entire fifth of vodka is a first.
I got the privilege of telling him that now we couldn’t let him in at all due to his being visibly intoxicated. I could see the sparkle of excitement leave his eyes, and ripples of shock and disappointment take over his face. Now he couldn’t see his favorite band and his night was ruined, due to his own stupidity. He slung his open backpack over his shoulder, which made a rattling noise from the broken glass inside. I watched vodka drip from his backpack onto the ground behind him as he shuffled away. I made a mental note to always search his backpack if I saw him again at the barcade. But he never showed up there again either.
I encountered a woman at a smaller venue that was clearly intoxicated. I spoke with her on the patio and confirmed that she was done for the evening. I gently said such, and encouraged her to head home and see us again another night. I asked her to drink water, and asked if she lived close by. She said yes that she lived in the neighborhood and could easily walk home. I wished her well and she walked across our patio. There was a very small bridge which has no pond underneath it, but is just there for decorative ambiance. There are just plants on either side of it. People would barely notice it, as the elevation is probably just an inch or more total.
I was considering telling her that she might want to exit out to the parking lot when she fell flat on her face. That slight incline of the brick bridge was just too much for her drunk self, and she just couldn’t maneuver herself successfully across it. Being drunk, she couldn’t catch her fall like any sober person could. Somehow she didn’t even put her hands out in front of her as she fell. If you’ve ever seen someone stand at the edge of a swimming pool and just tip over to splash into the water without bending their legs or their back, you have an idea of what her fall looked like. I ran over to her and turned on my flashlight to find blood on the bricks. She landed on her face and broke her front tooth off. Other patrons sitting around the fireplace were there to comfort her so I ran around the corner and went inside to tell the bartender to call an ambulance.
The woman was more embarrassed than in pain at this point. She initially refused medical attention. A manager came out and was in the process of calling 911 when the woman got up and said she didn’t want any help. She looked like a victim in a horror movie. Other staff got out the blood clean-up kit and were helping clear the area and assisting other customers on the patio. Somebody put on gloves and picked up her tooth from the bricks. I told the woman that she had actually lost a tooth and will need medical assistance because she was bleeding more than she probably thought she was. So we called 911 again and an ambulance arrived and helped her. She apologized to everyone and seemed honestly embarrassed to be putting us out like this.
I heard that the staff person who picked up her tooth put it in the altar with all sorts of other weird knick-knacks. I’ve never looked to see if it’s actually in there and I’m not going to.
The venue I’m working in tonight is 21 and over only, no exceptions or all ages shows. When performers themselves aren’t 21, we have to issue them special wristbands and limit where they can be. For example, they can’t be anywhere near the bar, and the green room has to be made dry. No alcohol.
I noticed a young man helping the band load their gear onstage from the parking lot. He looked mousy and inexperienced and a little out of place. Honestly he looked kind of scared too. I assumed he was a friend of the band helping load in and perhaps running their merch table later. The thing that drew my attention was how he was going out of his way to avoid me while I was sitting at the door to the green room and backstage area. Everyone else in the band would walk right by me over and over again, as the doorway I was at was far more convenient. But this guy would walk all the way across the stage, staying as far away from me as possible. Then he would have to climb up and down from the stage itself each and every time, which is hugely unnecessary and inconvenient for him. Like he didn’t know there were stairs over here. Or he didn’t want me eyeballing him.
Now that my interest was piqued, I went over to see who he was and if the band had given him a wristband or anything. He looked scared as hell as I walked over, and got up before I even reached him. As I was asking him what his role here was and if he had a wristband, he started walking away from me towards the front stairs leading out. I’m not used to people just walking away from me scared as I’m addressing them. I follow him across the empty room, asking where his credentials were. Now he was apologizing for something, what exactly I couldn’t tell. We both walked up the stairs and I alerted the other bouncers that we needed to talk to this guy because something was up.
He kept ignoring my questions and began fast-walking outside. I started jogging after him, and he started literally running away from me. This didn’t make any sense at all. In a perfect accidental recreation of a scene in the 1985 movie To Live and Die in L.A., this exchange happened: ME: “Stop running!” YOUNG MAN: “Why are you chasing me?” ME: “Why are you running?” YOUNG MAN: “Because you’re chasing me!”
I radioed to another bouncer to meet me at the corner that we seemed to be running towards. He met me there, intercepting the runner and scaring the crap out of him. This guy had led us directly to his parked car. I pulled out my phone and took photos, then started shooting video of him. My coworker shined his tactical flashlight at his face. Now the young man started apologizing profusely and holding his hands up as if he were surrendering. We were all a bit out of breath from our little run over here. He must have said “I’m sorry” about a hundred times by now.
I said, “So by running out of the venue and all the way to your car, I can assume that you are not 21, yes?” He nodded yes and started blubbering more apologies. As small as this might seem, keeping minors out of a 21 and over venue is of paramount importance. The OLCC can fine a bar very hefty amounts if they catch us letting minors in for any reason. That can result in the venue losing their liquor license, and in the worst scenario, shutting down forever.
I raised my other hand and told him to stop apologizing. I said to him, “OK. I’ve got your license plate number, your car, and your face on video. Don’t ever come back here.” The kid nodded repeatedly. Then my coworker added in, “Yeah don’t come back even when you ARE twenty-one!”
When we returned to the venue I checked in with the band about who that kid was and if he was with them. They said that they had no idea who he was, he just offered to help them load in thinking he would get in for free that way. And they didn’t think to inform me that he wasn’t with them.
I was working an outdoor event at the front gate. It was a three day event and most of it was outside. One night the weather turned bad suddenly and none of us were prepared with the right clothes. Our boss was able to give us hand warmers and loaned us scarves and even his jacket. But standing outside in the rain for hours certainly got me and a couple other guys colds for the remainder of the event.
At the end of the night our job changes. Instead of offering to check IDs and putting the appropriate bracelets on people, our job is essentially to be an alcohol monitor. We are just stopping anyone from bringing any drinks that they bought inside out of our gate. Same concern with the OLCC monitoring alcohol access and our permits and such. Most people honestly just forget they still have a cup in their hand, but some people are intentionally trying to sneak it out.
I was watching a group of fellas approach the exit gate with beers in their hands. All of them realized they were nearing the exit and I could see them finish their drinks and toss them in the garbage or recycling bins we provided. But one guy sort of danced around behind his four buddies and tried to hide his open beer can to his side so I couldn’t see it. There was a different group of people standing right by me who were finishing their drinks, obscuring my view somewhat. This guy tried to use them as a human shield to block my view, thinking he could just walk on by and get out the gates with his nine dollar beer.
I walked around them and popped out right in front of the guy, holding my hand out for his beer. “You can’t leave with that.” He grinned playfully and recoiled like I had punched him. He said, “Ooooohhhhhhh ya got me!” Then to his friends, “This guy is like the super boss! The one at the end of the video game level that you just can’t defeat. He comes out of nowhere and kills you dead.” I smiled back, he handed me the beer, and I said, “I like that. I’ll be the super-boss. Game over, man.”
Tonight’s incident is one for the books. It isn’t the craziest story, or the most violent story. It was honestly just stupid, and required a huge response that made everybody involved look bad.
You know how at smaller venues at a certain point of the concert, the venue becomes exit only? Or how there is no re-entry allowed at all? Pretty standard procedure, put in place for numerous logical reasons. If you choose to leave the concert hall, that’s usually it. Unless there is some special reason approved by door security like going to get a medication, you usually are just done with that show once you leave. That’s kind of a universally understood concept. We even remind people as they head towards the door of this fact, and post signs. Hell, it’s often printed on your ticket.
Well tonight a patron’s misunderstanding or ignoring of that rule resulted in a pretty big fracas. Some guy starts making his way up the stairs to the entry where we are stationed. The show was about to end, so we figured he was leaving early to get ahead of the crowd about to flood out. We wished him a good night, which implies that he was leaving. One of us even said that it was exit-only right now. He nodded and smiled and went into the restaurant area. Perhaps he was using the bathroom up here that was less populated.
He returns a few minutes later and moves towards us like he was going to re-enter the concert venue again. Smiling, I reminded him that it was exit only and he just needed to wait a few minutes. He blustered and tried to intimidate his way past me, arguing and saying that his wife was down there. We mentioned that we reminded him as he was coming up that it was exit-only now. We assured him that his wife was safe and to just hang out here with us until the show gets out. He continued to yell and pace right in front of me, complaining about our stupid rules.
I knew that the band was on their encore and it would just be another couple of minutes that we had to navigate this rudeness. He started insulting our jobs and what we get paid, like people always do when told ‘no.’ This guy was right in front of my face trying to intimidate me. I kept looking away from him and even yawned, avoiding further eye contact. This is a classic tactic for de-escalating a dog to show that you do not perceive him as a threat. I sensed that this guy might do something stupid. So I called my manager on the radio to meet us at the door, under the premise of assisting with the exodus of people about to be filing through. We even had the box office staff show this guy the set times list, which showed that the concert was ending in a minute or two. Even this did nothing to simmer his percolating anger and unjust treatment. If he had been wearing pearls he definitely would have been clutching them.
This venue is underground, so we stand at the top of the entry stairs to the venue doors. It’s a bit of a dangerous spot for anything to happen. We’ve seen countless drunk people stumble and fall down these stairs, even hitting their head on the plate glass window. I automatically put one hand on the guardrail while remaining right in the middle of the entry, physically blocking him from trying to move down the stairs. I gave up trying to verbally de-escalate or reassure him. He just wanted to tantrum about it now, pacing back and forth at the top of the stairs inches from me.
Then, he rushed me. He tried pushing me out of the way to run down the stairs. Two women were on their way up the stairs right behind me with more opening the door at the bottom. He just put me in danger, put the two women right behind me in danger, and put himself in danger. One could interpret this as him trying to push me down the stairs into the women like a bowling ball into the pins. It could have ended up really bad, with several people needing medical treatment. This reads like reckless endangerment and assault, if you wanted to stretch it that far.
My instincts immediately took over and I hooked him around the waist with my left arm, with my right arm still clamped onto the metal railing. There was no way he was going to pull me down the stairs with him if he fell. He didn’t even get one step down before I pulled him back by his belt. I yelled, “DOWN! DOWN!” which told the other staff that I was taking him to the ground. I felt like a football lineman as I lifted him away from the stairs and crashed to the ground with him. Other staff assisted in holding him down and making sure the women behind us were all right. I saw a blur and two bodies flew over my shoulder and out the front door, landing on the sidewalk. It was another bouncer tackling another patron. I didn’t understand what was happening there, but I was pretty focused on holding my guy on the ground so he couldn’t get up to fight us.
We had landed almost exactly in the doorway with the doors propped open, and the other bouncer was further outside the front door holding his guy down on the concrete. And that’s when the venue doors opened and hundreds of people started streaming out. It is a chokepoint, so every single person had to walk around us to exit the venue. Everybody’s faces were aghast with concern, wondering what on earth could have happened to cause two bouncers to tackle two patrons and be holding them on the ground. And then the two men’s wives came out, saw their husbands both being restrained on the ground and proceeded to freak out. Screaming and accusing us of assault. My manager had come in to help stabilize the younger guy that I had, who was struggling and yelling.
There is no way to explain to a huge crowd what is happening or what the justification for physical intervention was in this instance. People were circling around us, yelling at us to release the men and calling us names. I can’t believe that nobody pulled out their smartphone to film this incident. The hostess saw this go down, and saw the crowd surrounding us, and came out. I couldn’t transmit on my radio because I was busy holding this jerk down. She asked if she should call the cops, and looking between the forest of people’s legs surrounding me I said, “YES PLEASE.” I felt like this crowd was about to get a bunch of rocks and stone us to death Shirley Jackson lottery style.
I heard the security manager tell the wife of the guy he was holding down that he was going to jail tonight. That failed to calm her down. The wife of the man I was on top of was in my face demanding to know why we had their husbands on the ground and I said, “He is being detained.” Apparently nobody expected their husband to try and push a bouncer down the stairs. However, I appreciate where they were coming from not knowing any of the details. If I came out of a concert to see bouncers holding my spouse on the ground, I’d be pissed too.
I was able to release my guy and start doing crowd control, telling people to please get out of the way so people can exit. Other bouncers were now outside with us trying to quell this incident and calm down this mob. People were getting in our faces even though some of us were about twice their size. Yelling, cussing, making threats. It felt like additional incidents were about to happen. I couldn’t really explain to a mob what they did to get them tackled to the ground, but I announced that the police were on their way and that helped.
The adrenaline wore off and everybody realized that this was absolutely ridiculous, with the worst possible timing ever. I had no intention of pressing charges on the guy, so when they both calmed down and stopped struggling we were able to converse with them. We had them make a verbal contract with us that if we let them up they would not start up again or be violent in any way. They agreed, and with a pretty large crowd of upset people watching, we released them and helped them up. Shit-show interrupted.
The police came and just found a bunch of people milling around. We told them our side and, like often is the case, they sided with us. We had video camera footage we could review as well. The people were making threats of lawsuits. But everyone dispersed and we went downstairs into the security office to review the footage.
Not only did we have the footage from the cameras in the entryway and outside the front door, but one of the other bouncers wears a GoPro camera strapped to his sternum. And it’s times like this that the genius of employing that system is made apparent. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that bouncer have to explain to curious people what it is and what he is filming. He always says that he’s recording human interactions and behaviors. Just him hitting the record button and people seeing the red recording light can make them think again about acting up. Anytime he is talking to a patron and I see him turn on his GoPro, I head over to back him up because shit is getting tense.
So we synced his GoPro footage up and watched it along with the security camera footage of the incident. Just to make sure that we acted within our authority and didn’t do anything to hurt them. Even though their threats were pretty empty, it’s good to prepare yourself for potential litigation. I don’t think that most people ever have the unique option to watch footage of themselves in some real-life intense situation like we do. I’ve never seen myself on camera doing anything except playing drums or speaking. Watching myself in action on the black and white monitor was, in a word, a trip. Another manager was giving me kudos for remaining calm under fire. We were all watching me from a camera position right behind my head as I deflected his verbal attacks and ignored his pacing and intimidation attempts. Grace under pressure.
Then we watched the guy push into me and get put on the ground. Everybody reacted by yelling out like they just watched a football tackle on TV. But here is the part I didn’t previously understand. That second man who got tackled was the first man’s father. He saw me tackle his son and was coming up behind me to pull me off of him or attack me. He was reaching down to grab me when the other bouncer with the GoPro camera tackled him and they flew past me. That explains it. It was like watching a found footage horror movie and seeing someone coming up behind me when I was in no position to defend myself. I grabbed his shoulder and thanked him for having my back.
The combination of the first-person action footage from the GoPro and the stationary security camera footage gave us a great view of everything that happened. It showed us handling the unsafe situation without brutalizing them. No elbows dug into anybody’s ribs. We loosened our grip progressively and never put too much bodyweight on the men. At one point I recall just having my hand resting over his wrist, without any bodyweight of mine on him at all. After this surreal little watch-party everyone felt solid about any potential lawsuits. Our footage shows the patron ignoring our rules, causing problems, and physically assaulting me while putting other people in danger. And no injuries were sustained by the two men when we physically intervened with them. The only injuries were to egos, not flesh.
But what an unnecessary and avoidable situation this was. My manager even said, “That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.” Usually when we have to put hands on people it’s for a better reason than this. Dude couldn’t wait two minutes for the concert to end and the crowd to come upstairs. Had to provoke a multi-bouncer tackle pile which almost caused a mob to riot and kill us with pitchforks and fire. We never heard from them or any lawyer about this incident. But I’m still expecting that one star Yelp review.
From a young age I was on the stage as a performer. I took piano lessons for about five years as a child, then dance lessons for about six years. This was prior to my jettisoning all of it to take up drums and perform in rock bands for the majority of my adult life. None of that is particularly unusual, but it certainly jump-started my love of being onstage and gave me the confidence to do it without fear.
Playing piano enabled me to perform onstage for a recital at the Hult Center in Eugene when I was about ten. I remember looking out and spotting my proud smiling parents a few rows back as I played two pieces on a Steinway grand piano. Dancing got me on many different stages as well. And drumming got me on stages all over the west half of this country, including The Roseland Theater and Tom McCall Waterfront Park for Portland Pride. I spent all of my twenties and a bit of my thirties playing drums in bands. I took a long break from it to focus on other things, then returned to playing in bands in my forties. I can track the stages of my life based on the stages that I performed on.
I attribute those early lessons and stage experiences for my comfort level on stage. I have never had stage fright, or even been particularly nervous going onstage. I’ve always loved it and felt comfortable there, at home even. I started my first band in college when I was 19. Some early parties that we played would go on for three hours or longer. Hitting drums for three hours is a workout of the mind and the body by any definition. But I thrived on it, never getting tired or getting sore muscles. Now, just the idea of doing anything physical for three hours straight (that isn’t sleeping) makes me cringe. But adrenaline is a hell of a drug.
Obviously, piano lessons are always a great place to start with music lessons. It teaches you all the basics that can be transferred to any other instrument, making those instruments that much easier to learn. And tap dancing is much like playing drums. Your primary focus is the rhythm and staying in time. You might be counting in your head on difficult passages. The meter, syncopation, and polyrhythms are paramount. You have two taps on each shoe, making a total of four taps to make sounds with. While playing drums you have a stick in each hand to hit things with, and both feet to stomp beats on the bass drum and hi-hat. Either way, you’re using four striking surfaces to participate in the music. I’ve joked that being a drummer is much like tap dancing on a drum set. I’m certain that I pounded out quite a few hop-shuffle-step-flap-ball-change patterns on my drum kit.
I am not surprised at all that now I’ve gravitated towards the stage again, working there for my full-time job in music venues. I have deep and long-standing knowledge of what the bands onstage need during their set, and what they have gone through to get there. Also I work with them for hours prior to the show during the load in and stage build process, and for hours afterwards for load out. I’ve also worked as a roadie, drum tech, and stage manager for some local music festivals. All that said, listening and some gold old common sense will take you a long way in this industry. None of that is rocket science, but it does take strong people skills, coordination, and muscle. Luckily I have some of all three.
The quiet time after the show has ended when all the patrons have gone home and the production crew has finished up has become a favorite moment of mine. So much energy and effort has gone into preparing for those few hours of live performance on this stage. Months of planning and booking details worked out for this energetic conclusion to the event. So much attention to detail has been given to every aspect of this stage and what happens on it; powering all the musical equipment, coiling power cables safely so people can’t trip on them, mounting the lighting arrays, focusing and aiming the lasers, hiding the fog machines, and managing the strobe lights, cryo-blast tanks, or confetti cannons. Exact times that performers will walk on and off of this stage are worked out, and whether they will go into the crowd or pull someone up onstage. All attention is on the people on this stage during the show, like devout followers of a deity. I think of how many famous musicians have walked and danced across this carpeting. The bare feet of thousands of singers and dancers. Some feet leave the stage as they do an aerial performance on silks and hoops hanging from steel we have installed in the ceiling for this exact need. Other feet leave the stage when they jump into the crowd to be carried around while they continue to sing. This stage is just two by fours, nails, plywood, and some carpeting. There’s nothing special about it on paper. But it transforms into a magical and sacred musical hub, emanating words and sounds throughout the hall into our hungry ears.
One of my favorite lyricists (and drummers) is Neil Peart from the Canadian prog rock band Rush. In the classic 1981 song, “Limelight” he had this to say about it:
All the world’s indeed a stage And we are merely players Performers and portrayers Each another’s audience Outside the gilded cage
Hours later, the merch table has sold their last t-shirt and vinyl record, all the fans have gotten autographs and waved goodbye to the tour bus as it pulls away from the sidewalk, and the venue has been cleaned and prepped to do this all over again tomorrow. This is one of my favorite times, because I get to go up on the stage with no one in the venue. It might be 2am or later at this point, and just about everybody has gone home. The bartenders, the security staff, the tour personnel, the production crew, everybody. This is when I get to walk up on the hallowed floor of the stage and just hold the space by myself for a minute or two.
I’ve climbed up the secret hidden ladder behind the stage which takes you inside the ceiling. This is only here for access to wiring for certain lights, and the trapeze/aerial set up. I would guess that only a couple of people have been up here at all in the last few years, and they would have been a lighting technician or a stagehand. I’m 100% not supposed to be up here. This venue is very, very old, so this attic space over a domed mural must hold lots of memories and ghosts. Decades of dust. I snapped a few photos and climbed carefully back down this ladder, enjoying that rare vantage point that none of my coworkers have ever had.
Then I’ll just stand on stage and look out into the empty dark concert hall. There are always a few lights on for safety, so I can see where the concert space ends and the bar begins. I can see into the empty balcony. I can see all the emergency exit signs that never dim. This is the vantage point that only the performers have as they look out into the sea of cheering ecstatic faces. I always wanted to get here as a performer, but just never quite made it. This venue is so huge and acclaimed that none of the bands I ever played with could have played here. Let’s just be honest, none of my bands were good enough to get booked in a venue of this caliber. And that’s ok. We had a hell of a good time playing at low-level and mid-level venues over the years. But I definitely fantasized about it. I watch international touring bands perform here every night and I see why they are on this stage. Professionalism, poise, good songwriting, a connection with their fans, and a deep love of what they are doing. And having a draw is essential; you won’t get booked if you can’t get people in the door. After all of that, most do need a bit of luck; being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people.
But I’ll take this quiet moment to feel what it’s like to be standing on this stage that everyone wants to be on. Being up here is the end-goal of so many musical dreamers and working musicians. People work hard for years hoping to perform on a stage like this, myself obviously included. It’s the zenith of most musician’s careers. I’ll put my boot up on the monitor and act like I’m Robert Plant fronting Led Zeppelin, even flipping my hair back like he would. I’ll go back to where the drummer would sit and air drum like I was performing, channeling my inner John Bonham. I’ll strike a pose like I’m Cliff Burton playing his low-slung bass guitar. I’ll move around to stage right and do a little air-guitar, emulating Pete Townsend’s trademark windmill move. As a kid my friends and I would take plastic swords sold with Halloween costumes and use them as stand-in guitars. We would put on records from Pat Benatar and Van Halen and play air-guitar in my parent’s living room on the thick 70s orange carpet. I’m still doing that now, just on an actual stage where real bands play every night.
Then, in one last tip of the hat to my childhood, I’ll do a little soft shoe. I’ll shuffle off to Buffalo like I had my tap shoes on, remembering watching Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire on TV as a young kid. Hop-shuffle-step. Hop-shuffle-step. Hop-shuffle-step. Off to stage left, down the stairs, into the sanctuary of the backstage area. Nobody else has this bittersweet moment alone on this stage except me. It isn’t how I always dreamed of leaving a stage, but it’ll do.
March 11th, 2020 was the last live concert that I worked before the Covid-19 pandemic shut everything down.
We had been having cancellations since January, and by March most of our event calendar had been emptied. I work load in a lot, so I’m there at the front door all day, then I transition to working the stage at night. Working load in means greeting the various band members and crew, giving out wristbands to the entire tour, and helping them load all of their gear into the venue elevator. I also call up on the radio to confer with the stage manager or the production manager as questions and issues come up. Basically letting in only the approved people and keeping anybody else out.
A benefit of being there for load in is that I’m right next to the box office staff, so I am privy to a lot more of the inner workings of bands booking shows with us. The box office staff gets all the emails that I don’t regarding details on riders that the band requests, meet and greets, guest list and comp tickets, and even tours canceling. And this is what had been happening for weeks now, cancellations. I remember the first big cancellation that got our attention was the SXSW concert in Texas. The entire festival decided to shut down. We have a similar music fest in Portland called NXNW, so we knew this entailed a multi-day event involving dozens or hundreds of venues and a ton of revenue for the city.
I remember us talking about it and feeling like somebody must be overreacting. The entire event decided not to even try to run this year? We had obviously heard about a virus infecting some people, but this meant that it must be far more dire and widespread if an entire music festival was canceling. One that wasn’t even near the outbreak areas. Initially it seemed like the cases of this new mystery virus were mainly in New York and the East Coast. So why would a Texas music festival shut down? Further, why would tours coming through Portland, Oregon be canceling on us? We were confused and didn’t have all the data about the potential infections, just like everybody was. The money lost is going to be a disaster for everybody. Staggering, honestly. And that’s what most people were focused on at the very beginning. We just didn’t think that this could be the new Black Death and change our society. We were just worried about getting hours and how to continue getting paychecks. Because if there are no shows to work security at, I don’t have a shift to show up for. I can’t catch crowd surfers or kick people out of a concert that doesn’t happen.
SXSW cancelling didn’t affect or involve our venue directly. But we did then have band after band cancel their shows with us, from unknown local bands to international touring acts. My buddy in the box office is responsible for building the event on the website and social media, and therefore also responsible for dismantling the event and offering refunds when bands cancel. He had never seen so many bands cancel en masse like this before. Some venues weren’t offering refunds due to the confusion, but we definitely were.
The weeks went on and just about every concert canceled with us. Then the Portland Pride Festival announced that they were going to cancel. This really got to me. Portland Pride is the gay rights celebration and activism event that I have been attending and participating in for 25 years now. Some years I was just an attendee and ally. Other years I brought teenagers that I was mentoring. I staffed a booth for the non-profit dog rescue that I ran at the time. I was in the parade with several adoptable pit bulls one year, shooting people with a super-soaker to cool them down. My rock band performed on the main stage for five years in a row. I carried the banner for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers once. This event has been happening as long as I’ve lived in Portland and is a big part of me. Portland Pride is a full weekend, with other events around it happening for the entire week. 60,000 people are expected to attend it. But not this year. Devastating.
Other festivals and events followed, each one making us more concerned with the magnitude of the impending shutdown. The Oregon Country Fair said they would not be having their event for the first time in 50 years. The Waterfront Blues Festival dropped, as did the Oregon State Fair, and the Portland Rose Festival. Huge music festivals like Treefort in Idaho, Coachella in California, and the Reading and Leeds festivals in England all announced complete cancellations for the first time. Every major band from Madonna to Pearl Jam canceled their entire tours.
Then the Burning Man event said that they would not be having their event this year either. If I didn’t know that things were serious prior to this, I certainly did now. The Burning Man staff and participants are fervent and dedicated to making sure that their event happens every year, and grows at a reasonable rate. I was part of this family for years and know a bit about the year-round efforts they make getting permits, funding art projects, networking with important causes, and generating the budget to create and staff a temporary city in the desert for a week. I had attended and volunteered at Burning Man for fourteen years in a row. That event, and some of the regional events throughout the year, was a huge part of my persona for those years. I would leave for the event very early to work on set up and stay after the event ended to help tear down. The last year I went I was out in the desert for three weeks. I have friends that work out there for months. I know that people live for this week in the desert, and wait for it and plan for it all year long. There is a family, a community, a tribe of people that you might only see out there, but you have become life-long friends with. Attending Burning Man feels much like a family reunion–but with nudity, dust storms, fireworks, burning temples, drugs, and all-night dance parties. This would have been the event’s 34th year, and around 80,000 people would have likely attended.
But back to the last concert I ever worked at. It was a great show that I had been looking forward to for a while, and I was so happy that they didn’t cancel. The concert was a tribute to David Bowie. It was an alumni show, including musicians who recorded with Bowie and toured with him from the 70s until his death. Mike Garson, Gerry Leonard, Carmine Rojas, Kevin Armstrong, Alan Childs, Corey Glover, Joe Sumner, and Sass Jordan. This supergroup would perform the Bowie albums Diamond Dogs and Ziggy Stardust in their entirety. It was, in a word, epic.
Much like when Prince’s band, The Revolution, performed here, this Bowie show was emotional and had more great songs in it than believed possible. The people had history with the deceased, so there was much more reverence and history than with a regular tribute band. These musicians have stories for days. They toured with these icons, wrote songs with them, appeared in videos with them, and recorded in the studio with them.
I got to welcome Corey Glover, and had a few moments with him throughout the day. He is most famously known as the lead singer for the band Living Colour, which was one of my favorite bands. Their debut album, Vivid, was released in 1988. That was the year that I graduated high school and started college. So their music is the soundtrack to a very important time of my life. The first concert that I drove to Portland by myself to see was Living Colour opening up for Fishbone at the Pine Street Theater on December 10th, 1988. I was blown away by both bands, and sweated my ass off just as much as the Fishbone lead singer, Angelo Moore. One year at Burning Man I met Angelo Moore, told him about that concert, and got a photo with him.
Corey Glover actually sat down in my chair by the door and chatted with me. I tried not to be a gushing fanboy, but I did tell him that I saw Living Colour several times. I was part of a rock bus that drove all the way to Canada to see Living Colour open for the Rolling Stones in 1990. Thirty years ago. He smiled heartily and talked about how great that tour was for their career. He glanced down at my phone and recognized the Star Trek game I was playing. He said he is playing the same game, and asked me for advice on what kind of group to align with in the game. I never would have thought when I was a geeky young teenager seeing them in concert in 1988 that I would later be hanging with Corey Glover and trading Star Trek game strategies like old friends. I may even have blown up his Klingon ships in battle once, but I’m not confirming or denying that.
Hearing these musicians and friends of David Bowie tell their stories and perform his songs from the last five decades was amazing. Watching Corey Glover belt out songs like “Young Americans” and “Suffragette City” made me so happy. He took the song “Aladdin Sane” to a whole new level, and worked in part of “On Broadway” by George Benson. It felt like the entire audience was singing along with the band as they played “Heroes.” And, of course, seeing them perform “Under Pressure” made me tear up. Ever since Bowie passed, listening to that song makes me cry. Freddie Mercury and David Bowie made a song for the ages. It’s so sad that those two larger than life men, and their distinctive voices, will never sing again. They will never release a new album, film a music video, or stage another tour. I like to visualize them both reunited in some afterlife nightclub singing these lyrics together again.
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word And love dares you to care for The people on the edge of the night And love dares you to change our way of Caring about ourselves This is our last dance This is our last dance This is ourselves under pressure
The same night that the Bowie alumni concert was happening, alternative metal band Tool was performing at the Moda Center. I feel like all of my music loving friends were at one of these two shows. We knew that the Bowie concert would be the last one here for a while, and Tool ended up canceling everything starting the next day with their date in Eugene, Oregon. Those who got to see Tool in Portland were lucky indeed, as that final show was probably a vote or two away from being canceled also. We were concerned that if people at that venue had this deadly virus, it could potentially spread among the crowd of 20,000 sold out fans.
We had one more non-concert event at our venue. It was a long-running DJ night with music from the 90s as the theme. Usually this event has hundreds of people, and sometimes sells out. Since there was no concert in the huge venue, they were able to have this in that space instead of the smaller venue downstairs. By this time, people had heard that all live concerts had been canceled everywhere indefinitely, and that this would likely be the last dance party event as well. Our governor banned public gatherings of 150 people or more, so small events like these were still allowed. These events have their own built-in crowd that comes every weekend, but this time there were maybe 30 people total all night instead of 300. It looked even worse since these people were in the huge ballroom where concerts normally happen, which just accentuated that this room was essentially empty. I took a photo of the ‘crowd’ of 8 people that actually stayed and danced until the end. While it must have been nice to have all that room to dance, it was also depressing to see so few people here for what was likely the last time.
My other part time job was able to drag it out for a few more days because our capacity was much smaller. I would work at a popular barcade during the day with people coming in to play classic video games and drink and socialize. The number of people coming in got smaller and smaller, and we were all wearing masks and sanitizing surfaces like crazy people. We had hand sanitizer pumps everywhere, and people were all very grateful that we were still open. But we all could see the writing on the wall.
The last day we were open was St. Patrick’s Day. I worked that day and it was a ghost town. People were watching the news for the inevitable shutdown announcement. St Patricks’ Day is obviously a big drinking night, so places stand to have huge crowds and special events and make a lot of money. This was Tuesday March 17th and only the neighborhood regulars were popping in to play Galaga just one more time. No tourists, no families with kids, nobody was coming in. Then we got the news that every business that wasn’t essential had to shut down immediately. I got the pleasure of closing and locking the doors early after thanking our final customer for coming in. We should have stayed open for five or six more hours, had a line outside, and made lots of tips. Instead we were offered whatever food we wanted from the fridges since it would go bad before we could reopen. I got some amazing vegan bacon, cheeses, hummus, fruits, etc. And since panicked citizens had cleaned the grocery store shelves of all rolls of toilet paper, we were given huge industrial rolls of toilet paper to take home with us. We all played some video games to help us deal with our depression. We also all took a free shot of whiskey from the bar and toasted the place. I wish somebody would have taken a photo of us all, since that’s likely the last time we will all be together as coworkers in that business. We didn’t get any opportunity for anything like this at my main job in the concert hall, so it was nice to have this moment of acknowledgment and closure.
Both employers obviously laid me off, like they did everyone. There hasn’t been a concert since the Bowie show, and I haven’t even been inside that beautiful music venue since. No dance parties, weddings, or video game sessions have happened. It’s been six months now. I did luck out and was hired back on part-time to guard some of the empty music venues during the full shutdown. Some of the other venues were in danger of being broken into and vandalized or burgled. So they rehired some of us to just sit inside as a visual presence and crime deterrent. Telling people to get off the property, documenting when people would case the place, sending tweakers and homeless people on their way so they don’t set up camp. Sometimes I would sit onstage with my laptop and watch live concert videos of my favorite bands. I would turn on some of the stage lights just to make it more festive. But an empty music venue without anyone performing on the stage is a vacant husk, with ghosts of happier times.
At this point, I really don’t have much faith that live concerts will ever come back the way they were. And if they do, they wouldn’t be the same anyway. And most of us will have to move on to other jobs and careers if we can. As someone who performed in bands for years, and attended live concerts religiously for decades, this is catastrophic. I truly miss those magical music moments that happened at the Bowie tribute concert. Things like that would happen every night, honestly. I miss every little thing about it, even the bad nights. It really was the perfect job for me.
So March 11, 2020 was the last live concert that I ever saw or worked. Layoffs and death throes happened until March 16, and the last day I worked anywhere in what was normal was March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. That’s when everything changed, everything became lesser than. Diminished. Live music disappeared from our lives. Empty music halls and ghosts, just memories of performances by no one for no one. Now it’s all just loud shadows in my dreams. Dreams with clouds of fog moving across the stage like an amoeba, the rumbling of bass cabinets rattling cables off of their coil, coordinated lights and lasers battling above the heads of the sweaty crowd. Humans leaping around a stage leading an ancient tribal ritual of music and shared experience. I hope that these dreams continue. For in dreams, anything can happen.
A white male in his fifties approached the doorway and presented me with his ID before I could even ask him for it. He was skinny, gangly even, and wore bright colorful clothes that I suspect he made himself. He had a high-end wooden walking stick and definitely made an impression. He had an oversized hat that was made of some soft material that made you want to touch it. It drew your attention and mesmerized you. I had trouble looking at his eyes with this big rasta jester hat on. Imagine an amalgam of a Dr. Seuss character, a 1970s era pimp, and every stoner dude at a music festival. THAT was the hat he had on.
I asked him how he was doing and he didn’t answer. Some people aren’t friendly even after I exhibit friendliness to them. Some people don’t like bouncers and get nervous. But usually they nod or answer me in some way. This guy didn’t seem homeless or high or intoxicated, so I had no reason to deny him entry. So I let him inside. Honestly he just struck me as a Burner (person who attends the Burning Man festival or various regional events). I was part of that community for 14 years, so I have no judgment or hesitance dealing with Burners. They are my people. If anything, they understand the club scene and consider everyone part of their tribe, so they will be the helpers in most situations. They will look out for each other and know how to access whatever resources they need. But they can be a bit quirky, or dress in flamboyant costumes even when there is no particular call for it.
Not even five minutes went by before my security manager called me on the radio. “Darren, did you let in The Mad Hatter?” I grinned and responded, “Yeah. Is he ok?” “How did he seem to you?” “Honestly I couldn’t really get a read on him since he didn’t say a word to me. It was like he was mute. But he produced a valid ID and wasn’t altered, so I let him in.” “Yeah OK, just checking, he’s being kind of weird in here.” “Copy that. Let me know if he needs to leave.”
I was then called away to the back patio of the bar. We have a comfy fire pit back there that people love to sit around and drink and smoke. You have to come through the front door and walk through the bar/restaurant area to get outside to the fire pit patio. However, the fence around the fire pit area is only about 3 or 4 feet high, so the determined stealthy person could climb over it. Occasionally a homeless person will do just this to warm up by the fire, and then I have to kick them out.
A mentally ill homeless woman had indeed jumped the fence and was bothering the patrons around the fire pit. She was babbling crazy person nonsense and making people very uncomfortable, as well as trespassing. I recognized her disturbed visage instantly. She was a white woman in her forties who I would call a regular. Not a regular patron like Norm in Cheers, but a regular street person that keeps coming around even though they’ve been kicked out a dozen times. I’ve personally kicked her out a couple times previously.
I’m sure that the sight of this sickly muttering zombie climbing over the wooden fence was disturbing enough to the customers. But then she gets this intense angry look on her face and spins around slowly. Somewhat like a Sufi dervish, but more a slow-motion batshit crazy whirling dervish. I made my way to the back of the patio where she was and told her to leave immediately. I certainly wasn’t going to put my hands on her unless there were no options left. Luckily after I twice commanded her to leave the same way that she came in, she crawled up and over the fence again. She reminded me of Gollum scuttling over the rocks in the Lord of the Rings films.
I returned to the front door and got another call on the radio from the security manager asking me to come in and get the Mad Hatter out. Apparently he was bothering people and becoming agitated. By the time I reached him, several other bouncers were surrounding him as he was yelling at other patrons. He CAN talk! He started using the walking stick in a threatening manner, swinging it around at staff and patrons. So we grabbed him by both arms and walked him back out the front door. He didn’t struggle really, but he did scream and holler like he was being murdered.
I didn’t like how he was still holding on to that walking stick/wizard staff, so I took it from him and let another bouncer take my place holding his arm. We were hesitant to release him until he didn’t have this potential weapon. He said that he was a hotel guest and just wanted to go back to his room. The hotel that is adjacent to our club sent out a staff to help as well. Apparently this guy lost the key to his room so he needed to be let into his room. After one establishment kicks you out and has to physically remove you, you’re just one step away from being kicked out of the hotel as well. So once the hotel heard that this Mad Hatter was swinging a wooden staff at people, they decided that he was too much of a liability and told him he would be leaving their hotel as well. We were requested to walk him to his room and make sure that he didn’t destroy it. The police are always called when a guest is being kicked out of their hotel room. So we were just playing a waiting game with law enforcement.
The hotel staff unlocked the guy’s room. While he was busy and distracted starting to sort through his stuff, I hid his walking staff around the corner in an alcove. The last thing we wanted was him getting hold of it again and thinking that he is a Bojutsu fighter. He could have had anything in his room or suitcases, so we remained in the doorway watching him super closely. My security manager and I were talking quietly about how if this guy pulled a knife (or worse) out of his luggage, this small cluttered hotel room would be a terrible place to be. No room to effectively fight or get out of the way. So we stood strategically in the doorway, close enough to jump on the guy if he did something. But keeping our distance as well. It was a bad scenario.
Another bouncer called on the radio saying that the police were coming over momentarily after checking in with the hotel staff. Now the Mad Hatter knew this, but hearing that over the radio must have upset him further. He pulled a black stick from his luggage, and we started to move to disarm him. It was an expandable baton like the police use. He flicked it out to it’s full length, pounded it onto the floor like a gavel and yelled. “I’M STILL PACKING! I’VE GOT THIS!”
It was a last-ditch attempt to intimidate us. We all started yelling at him, directing him to put the baton down. I even reached around the corner for his walking staff, preparing to use his own weapon against him if necessary. The police officers were coming up behind us and we said the word, “BATON, BATON!” so they would know what the guy had. They undoubtedly heard him yell he was packing, which would usually be referring to a gun. This whole thing could have gone to shit real quick.
Luckily the police remained calm and took over this situation with grace. They did not draw their guns or tasers. They asked him to put the baton on the ground so that they could hold onto it for him, which he did. They verbally encouraged the man to just focus on continuing to gather his belongings. I was asked to remain there with the officers as they supervised the Mad Hatter hurriedly packing all of his stuff into his luggage. I handed over the wooden walking stick to the officer, reminding them he was swinging this around inside our bar. Once it seemed like the situation had de-escalated enough to just be a waiting game, the hotel staff and I shared a sigh of relief. He leaned over to me and said, “Hey, were you in the military?” I responded, “Nope, never.”
A few minutes later the Police said we could go and they would escort the Mad Hatter off the property. I didn’t get 5 feet away before my radio said that the same homeless woman had jumped the fence into the patio fire pit area again. This was just on the other side of the hotel room door where the cops were still watching the guy pack up all his stuff. So I walked right into the patio area and found our disheveled dervish again. But this time, she had taken off her sweat pants and was bottomless. Just casually wearing a shirt, naked from the waist down. If she were a man, we would have referred to him a a shirt-cocker. She was babbling and pointing at people and aiming her ass at the fire. I don’t know if she thought that was an acceptable way to get warm, or if she was considering peeing or masturbating somewhere. Regardless, exposing yourself in public will always get you kicked.
I addressed her loudly, “HEY! You with no pants on.” She tried to act like she didn’t hear me and kept trying to pester these innocent people with her prattling. It really pisses me off when people act like they can’t hear me. I held out my arm at full-length and started snapping my fingers loudly right by her year. Exactly like you would do to get a dog’s attention. “HEY! I know you can hear me. Stop ignoring me. You need to leave right now.” She finally acknowledged my presence in her periphery and started trying to talk about it being a free country and how she could be there. I had enough, my adrenaline was still high from the Mad Hatter’s baton incident. I laughed at her, put my hands out to each side and said, “THE POLICE ARE RIGHT BEHIND ME! WOULD YOU RATHER DEAL WITH THEM? OR ME? GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!” I again pointed at the fence and she mumbled a bunch of profanities as she crawled up and over it. I was then gifted a clear flame-lit view of her dirty naked ass as she went over the fence.
I walked back inside finally to think about how I was going to write up both of these incidents. My coworkers that weren’t involved were looking at me quizzically as I walked back in shaking my head and laughing. All they knew was some dude called the Mad Hatter freaked out and the cops came, and something about a naked woman on the patio. I just said, “One of those nights. I’ll tell ya about it later.”
But it still wasn’t over. Our favorite whirling dervish homeless lady returned about 20 minutes later and started her spinning outside of our front door. She was accosting patrons as they left, yelling and cussing at them. She did, thank the gods, have her sweats back on now. Her hair was such a mess that it reminded me of a bird’s nest. It appeared wind-blown off to one side, and it could have had many things hidden inside of it. She was a mix of Lizzie Borden and Radagast the Brown. She started pounding on the huge plate glass windows and screaming. She pulled down her sweats again and rubbed her ass cheeks on the glass, hoping to offend the people inside watching this like a car wreck.
At this point I was done with her, so I called the police. I was careful in my wording. I explained that this was a mental health call, this woman just keeps trespassing and exposing herself, and that she likely needs transport for services. I said that she hadn’t threatened anyone or acted violently at all. The officers that responded actually knew her, which isn’t a huge surprise. They called her by name and had some rapport with her.
She stopped her spinning and screaming and got very quiet. The officers were trying to offer her a ride to get some help. I was still standing around to assist and document for the additional report I would now be writing. But then she looked over at me and said these words, “He put it in me……and it hurt.” She grabbed her crotch and started crying, slumping down onto the sidewalk.
I felt like I was a statue, immovable and frozen. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was shocked and angry. I know I didn’t have to say anything, but I felt like I had to at least reply to that bullshit. I quietly said to the officers and her, “I never touched her.” The officers knew that and nodded. It’s a terrible fucked up thing to say, a heinous accusation that shouldn’t ever be made unless it’s true. I know it was just her brain’s faulty wiring, I know I shouldn’t take it personally. But that knocked me over. I was pissed at her mental illness for making her say outlandish dark things like this. I was pissed at whoever actually did rape her. I was pissed that she had to relive past sexual assault and accuse strangers of doing what someone else did to her. I was pissed at the uncle or babysitter who raped her as a child. I was pissed at the other homeless person who raped her last week. I was pissed that she might be hallucinating sexual abuse that didn’t happen. I was pissed at the mental health system that will just keep letting her cycle in and out, never really getting the long-term treatment she needs. Her entire situation makes me sad and defeated. The officers did take her to a mental health crisis triage center. This entire night just needs to end, and I need to go home and sit in a hot bath.
About a year later, I left that job and had just started working at another music venue. This venue is about 25 blocks away from the venue with the fire pit. While working the door there, I looked across the street and saw a familiar person with an equally familiar gait. It was the bottomless whirling dervish woman. She was spinning her way across the street; flailing her arms, yelling at people in cars, and being a nuisance. But honestly, I had a moment of happiness seeing her, because I was glad that she was still alive. I had thought about her often since that night. I wondered if she had gotten locked up for some petty crimes, been committed to a mental institution, or if she had died.
To my surprise, she spun and shuffled right over to the front door of this venue. There were three or four other security people standing around, but I stepped out to intercept her since we had history. Her hair had not been cut since I saw her last. So she now appeared more like a troll doll on the end of a pencil, one that you spin and the hair expands to crazy lengths. She was making a bee-line for the door and I held up my hand and said, “I’m sorry, you can’t come in here. I remember you from the place with the fire pit.” She gave me an angry glare, shook her messy dusty hair, and went away down the sidewalk. It’s strange to say that I was honestly happy to see her again, but I was.
Another coworker asked who that crazy woman was. I just said she was somebody that I’ve kicked out of every place that I’ve worked.
One could say that I’m a long-time disciple of Sam Peckinpah. His movies have spoken to me in a way that other movies have not. I have read numerous biographies about the man, and for some reason can list all of his filmography in the order of release. His films mean a lot to me. Several of his films remain firmly on my top 10 lists of all time. His films deal with outlaw characters, and themes of men out of time, trying to finish something in a world that has moved on. Honor among thieves. He was definitely a troubled soul that fought lots of personal demons, but sometimes he took that darkness and angst and put amazing beauty on the screen.
Perhaps his purest vision is the 1974 film Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I have previously written about his 1977 WW2 film Cross of Iron, but I have wanted to delve into this dark masterpiece for a while now. But much like any journey into the heart of darkness, you have to be equipped and mentally ready for it.
Some brief background info for the layman first. There are many great books written about the man, so I’ll just give you some basics here. I’ll list my favorite books about him at the end of this article. Peckinpah is primarily known for his western films. He made a name as a solid director on series such as The Rifleman and The Westerner before moving into film. He was known for working with amazing actors and getting unique and powerful performances out of them. A short list of actors who shined under Sam’s tutelage includes Charlton Heston, Jason Robards, William Holden, Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, James Coburn and Warren Oates. Peckinpah worked with Steve McQueen twice in the same year, releasing Junior Bonner and The Getaway in 1972. Sam was fired from the 1965 Steve McQueen gambling film The Cincinnati Kid. I often wonder if both men had lived longer and not pissed off the wrong people what they could have done together. The independent, macho, strong silent type of character that both men were drawn to could have given us a long lasting working relationship akin to Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.
Sam was also known for pushing the envelope of on screen violence, so much so that his primary nickname is Bloody Sam. Another innovation that Sam made his trademark was the slow-motion montage action shot. He used slow motion, multi-camera coverage, innovative shot editing, and even the variable speed camera. His style was hugely influential, to the point of virtually every action director that followed him using these techniques. Sam loved the poetry of violence, the dance of death. And using slow motion can warp time, elongating the moment of death.
He also loved to fight against the perceived authority of the studio executives. He pissed off so many producers that he lost many great films that were planned for him to direct. He would go over budget and fight with the bigwigs that in many cases, his films were taken away from him and edited together by other people, or important scenes would be cut against Sam’s wishes. This resulted in several of his movies being released in highly edited forms that didn’t do well at the box office. Major Dundee and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid are prime examples. It is no surprise that after the debacle of Pat Garrett, Sam made this angry, no-holds-barred film.
Of all of his great films, Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is the only film of his that he had final cut on. This means that whatever he filmed and edited together stayed intact without any tampering from studio executives. So, for better or for worse, this movie is exactly what Sam wanted, done his way. This is interesting to keep in mind as you watch it, for it is so gritty and bleak.
The setup of this movie is pretty simple. A powerful Mexican land baron puts a large bounty on the man that impregnated his daughter. One million dollars for his head. Warren Oates plays Bennie, the quintessential anti-hero. He finds out that Alfredo is already dead from a car crash. So he and his girlfriend Elita go to find his grave and remove his head to turn it in for the cash. Of course, this dark plan gets much darker and many things go wrong.
“I’ve killed people. And worse, a whole lot worse.”
This film is Warren Oates’ film all the way. He carries the whole thing and is in almost every scene. It’s a tour de force. Peckinpah had worked with Oates for a long time, and obviously saw something in him. A gifted character actor, this movie might be his most successful starring role. Sam had previously worked with Warren in The Westerner and The Rifleman, then he cast him in his films Ride the High Country, Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch, and gave him the lead in Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Oates decided to just do an impression of Sam Peckinpah for the character, even dressing like him and borrowing his sunglasses. Sam liked it and went with it.
I feel like Sam was challenging us with this movie from the first 5 minutes. It opens with a poetic beautiful shot of a young pregnant woman resting by a pond full of swimming ducks and dappling sunshine. Then she is brought inside and interrogated by her father. He asks who the baby’s father is and she refuses to name him. Her own father then has his two henchmen strip off her shirt, exposing her breasts to everyone in the room. He continues to ask her and she refuses, so he gestures for the henchman to twist her arms in a pain-compliance hold. She cries out in pain and hunches over. He gestures to continue and we hear the sound of her arm breaking and her screaming. If this isn’t the kind of film you would want to continue watching, this is your exit point. It is a cruel scene that sets the tone for the journey to follow.
Some dialogue exchanges also give you an idea of the type of nihilistic film you are in for. This is from the early scene with Bennie playing piano and accepting the mission from the two assassins paying him to do their dirty work for them.
Bennie: “Don’t worry, if he’s alive I’ll find him.” Sappensly: “Alive isn’t our problem.” Bennie: “Well, How bout dead or alive? How about that? Quill: “Dead. Just dead.”
Later when Bennie meets with his girlfriend Elita at her workplace, he orders a drink like a true antihero would:
Bennie: “Gimmie a double bourbon and a champagne back and none of your tejano bullshit. Now shove off.”
After a shootout where Bennie emerges the victor, he goes over to a henchman lying in the dust. Bennie already shot him twice, so he is either already dead or dying. But Bennie shoots him two additional times, executing him for certain. He then says:
“Why? Because it feels so goddammed good.”
Here’s what you’ll remember about this movie: sweat, dust, flies, grime, nudity, blood, and bullet wounds. There are scenes that make us nervous and uncomfortable, and only a master director like Peckinpah can do that so effectively. He intentionally doesn’t explain some things, leaving the viewer to struggle with how to interpret it. I’m primarily referring to the almost-rape scene that jars everyone that watches it. Many essays have been written about that scene alone. There is much examination of masculinity, insecurity, jealousy, and gender role expectations. Sam even made the two main assassins homosexual, back in 1974. Bennie, and his character arc (or descent) is obviously the focus of this film, but his character is troubled at best. As the main character, he is seedy and lost and immoral, the definition of an anti-hero. The viewer wants him to succeed in this morbid mission, even at the peril of his soul.
One of my favorite pieces of dialogue is when Bennie and Elita are discussing digging up the body of Alfredo to remove his head.
Elita: But you want me to desecrate a grave! Bennie: Don’t give me that crap. There’s nothing sacred about a hole in the ground Or a man that’s in it. Or you. Or me.
I’ve watched Alfredo Garcia countless times and I still keep noticing new things. That’s the sign of a well-constructed film. On this last viewing, I spotted an uncredited cameo from Richard Bright. He is most famous for portraying mafia henchman Al Neri in all three Godfather films. Sam also cast Bright in small roles in The Getaway and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
I heard a nice sound cue this time around. When the two company assassins show Bennie a photo of Alfredo Garcia, there is an added sound effect of a car screeching and crashing into something. I assumed that this was a subtle bit of audio foreshadowing, since later in the film Bennie and Elita kiss while driving and bump a passing bus as they screech out of the way. However, it is actually a plot point flashback of sorts. We learn later that Alfredo died in a car accident, so this added sound effect when we look at his photo is a nice connection.
Another detail I had previously missed was during a scene with Bennie driving around in his red Impala with Alfredo’s head in a sack. He gets out of his car carrying the package with him to go get some ice. Files have been buzzing around the inside of the car, and the stench must be incredible. He needs some ice to try to keep the head from rotting any further. As he walks into a little side of the road restaurant, there is a pig’s head hanging from a hook behind him. A decapitated pig’s head acting as a talisman of bad luck to a man with a decapitated human head in a sack.
Sam put in a couple of subtle homages to his own films. At one point, Bennie is suggesting that his employers do not need to know that Garcia was already killed. He tells Elita, “In this house, we know nothing.” I was instantly reminded of a similar famous line from Sam’s film Ride the High Country. In that great film, Joel McCrea’s character says, “All I want is to enter my house justified.” Another film also references the house as an important character. Dustin Hoffman’s character in 1971’s Straw Dogs says to his wife, “I will not allow violence against this house.” Peckinpah wrote or co-wrote all three of those movies, so it’s no wonder that dialogue repetitions would reappear.
Sam also references his previous film, the 1973 western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. During the third shootout, in the hotel suite, Bennie runs around the corner and a bad guy shoots at him. His bullets hit the TV, and several hit the mirror showing Bennie’s reflection. The cracked glass patterns appear over Bennie’s face and torso exactly how they did over James Coburn in the climax of Pat Garrett. In that film he was the shooter, so he was shooting himself. This symbolized the death of his soul, as he was about to murder his best friend, Billy. And this scene, and the whole film, was about the two men being two sides of the same coin. If Garrett kills Billy he would be killing the original, outlaw version of himself, now that he is on the side of the law. In Garcia, the image of Benny is being further distorted and damaged, much like his body and mind. It’s a well-crafted reflection of the previous film.
Mirrors are all over the set in this film. Many of the quieter dialogue scenes play out in a reflection. A shot of Bennie entering a hotel is shot all in a huge mirror reflection and looks like a painting. At first nothing in the mirror reflection is moving, and the border around it definitely looks like a frame of a painting. Then Warren Oates moves into the field inside the mirror and we know it is reality–or that his character is walking into an artistic rendition of reality.
A final similarity between this film and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is turkey shooting. In this film, Bennie fires at some turkeys on the side of the road in a spontaneous show of excitement. He tells Elita that he wasn’t trying to hit any of them. That’s an interesting thing to put in this film that seems random. Peckinpah got a lot of heat from animal rights groups for actually shooting off the heads of turkeys in the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid target shooting scene. Could this be a veiled apology from Sam? Not likely. Maybe he just hates turkeys.
Another echo of a previous Peckinpah film is when Bennie says to the bag containing Alfredo’s head, “All right Al. Let’s go.” Anyone that has seen The Wild Bunch remembers William Holden’s character Pike saying “Let’s go.” It is ranked as one of the greatest movie lines of all time. Warren Oates, who plays Lyle Gorch in that film, laughs and says, “Why not?” Instead of a big speech explaining why the group needs to march back into an occupied city and face almost certain death by the army there, their communication is simplified into facial expressions, locking eyes, and these two words. Hearing Warren Oates this time say the first part of the famous line is deeply satisfying. And just like in The Wild Bunch, the main character says “Let’s go” as he decides to wade into the final bloodshed when he could easily just escape to safety.
Anecdotally, Warren Oates was the focus of a double feature I saw a few years ago in my city of Portland, Oregon. A group called BAM (Beer and Movies) put on a Warren Oates double feature at the Hollywood Theater. The two films were The Wild Bunch and Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. This was, perhaps, the greatest double feature that I’ve ever seen. Four and a half hours of Peckinpah bliss on the big screen, as well as the Jerry Fielding soundtracks.
One of the most memorable shots is with Bennie sitting outside the shower with Elita. She is vulnerable and naked sitting in the water stream crying. Her hair is wet and reminds me of the mythological goddess Hecate. Interestingly, Hecate is known as the protector of the household and associated with crossroads. She is associated with boundaries, and therefore the underworld. I found this quite interesting in relation to the previous quotes about houses in Sam’s films, and since this film feels like a descent into the underworld. Oates looks right into the camera for the only time in the film and says, “I love you.” The expressions on his face are myriad. This had to be a hand held camera shot, and it does feel like he is looking into a mirror, and that we are him. It is a striking and emotional shot.
The final 45 minutes of this movie is a gonzo roller coaster ride of Bennie’s descent into meaningless death and destruction. It’s a fever-dream with Bennie talking to himself, and talking to the decapitated head in a bag. Flies buzz and patter against the inside of the car windows. Bennie takes a pull of tequila, pours some directly on the bag saying, “Take a drink, Al.” This road trip movie is far off course and headed straight to hell. Many, many people die. We get four separate gunfights and it’s difficult to keep track of how many people are killed. Bennie has almost lost it all, and is definitely losing his mind. It is reminiscent of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver or William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones at the finale of Rolling Thunder. They all go into the final act ready to die, even expecting to die, so nothing really matters. The bleak nihilism of all three films is striking. In The Wild Bunch, the group is at least finally standing for something–brotherhood and doing the right thing. They go back into the Mexican town to rescue Angel, their captured gang member. They are so outnumbered that we know they are doomed. But dying for a cause, dying for some honorable reason is better than becoming obsolete, or wasting away in an old folks home. In Alfredo Garcia, our main character isn’t really doing it for anything but money. This morphs into revenge and punishing all the villains–every single one. We want Bennie to ‘win’ since we have seen all he has been through and lost to get here. The sacrifices made were staggeringly high. As he says early in the film, “Nobody loses all the time.”
One of the greatest moments in this film, and Warren Oates’ career, comes late in the film. Bennie has returned to his cheap apartment with the ice and Alfredo’s head. He is preparing to chip apart the ice to pack around the head when he approaches the mirror. He takes a pull of tequila, removes his sunglasses and looks at himself in the reflection momentarily. After all the loss and killing, he can barely look at himself at all. He looks so haggard and beaten down, his sad red eyes look shocked and soulless. He puts his glasses back on and gets back to his job.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. –Nietzsche
Something else I was stricken by was Sam’s attention to background action and details that flesh out the scene, making it seem real. I think Sam likes kids, he puts in a lot of them playing in his films. In this movie young kids sit on the hood of Bennie’s Impala as he slowly drives through town. He even playfully makes shooting gestures at them with his hands, which certainly foreshadows all the actual shooting to come later. There are many shots of groups of kids playing ball, food vendors on the side of the road, bands playing music, herds of animals, lines of hanging laundry, and sweaty mustached faces. After one shootout, a young child is seen grabbing a revolver out of a dead man’s hand, then dropping it. When Bennie and Elita reach the cemetery where Alfredo is buried, there is a funeral procession for a child. A small wooden coffin is being carried by mourners, which made me think of the death of innocence.
The end of this film is done so well, I just can’t get it out of my head. Bennie finally delivers the head of Alfredo to the Mexican baron, El Jefe. He arrives on the day of the baptism of Alfredo’s son. A shot of the prized head being identified and placed back in the ice-packed picnic basket by the guards is juxtaposed with the baby’s head being baptized with holy water. Absolute genius. There are dozens of family members around, and El Jefe is celebrating the birth of his grandson. Family members outside are lighting off fireworks, which would ostensibly cover the sound of gunfire from inside this hall. The constant pops reminded me of the beginning of Cross of Iron with the sounds of the mortar explosions getting closer and louder.
Bennie presents the bounty of the decapitated head to El Jefe and defiantly pulls out huge chunks of ice and drops them on the desk as he says, “16 people are dead because of him, and you and….and me.” Nobody knew or expected him to have stashed his pistol in the picnic basket. Bennie pulls it out and thus starts the final shootout, full of slow-motion gunfire and blood squibs. Bennie yells, “NOOOOOOO” as he fires, and his voice is as loud as the gunshots. He is yelling at the injustice of all these people dying for this twisted treasure hunt. Screaming for all he has lost on this journey. Screaming that they aren’t going to keep getting away with it, and keep holding all the cards. No more. Once all of the guards are blown away, Bennie aims the gun at El Jefe, shakes his head slightly with a nervous grin, and growls “Nooooo” like an animal. It’s like the sound that a tiger death bringer would make. It’s a great audio mix boost. I won’t spoil what happens next, but it’s a killer ending to a batshit crazy movie.
This film is a must-see for Peckinpah fans. If you haven’t seen any of his films, I don’t recommend starting with this one. Build up to this one by watching The Getaway, The Wild Bunch, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid first. This is a grimy dark movie that comes from a place of desperation and anger. It’s part road movie, part love story, part action film, part drama, with elements of a horror movie. But it’s all Sam.
“Look at me with your goddam fucking eyes.
Come out and tackle me, you bastards. I’m gonna nail ya. Somewhere I’m gonna nail ya. You’re up there. You’re up there you son of… I’m gonna find you. Damn your eyes.”
I continually get to witness all sorts of stupid shenanigans of people at their worst. It’s a perk of the job. Luckily, I am one of the perceived persons of authority at any venue I work at. Security staff can kick you out at any time.
We received a call of a person who was just cut off at one of the bars and needed to exit the establishment. Read: We were going to kick his drunk ass out. With just a description over the radio, we started hunting through the crowd. I stopped to talk to the bartender who called this in to get a better description. We found the guy and verified that he was stumbling drunkenly. I asked him to walk back to the bar with me so we could speak easier. This was a ruse to get the bartender’s eyes on him to confirm or deny that this was the particular drunk asshole that needed to be 86’d.
The bartender nodded that we had the correct person, so I explained to him that he needed to walk out with me because he was being asked to leave for extreme inebriation. A couple of my coworkers moved in around us just in case he tried to bolt back into the crowd or fight us. Luckily, the patron was very compliant and apologetic. He even put his hands up like I had him at gunpoint or something, which is a common reaction that some people have.
To get out of this music hall, you have to walk downstairs two levels to reach the front door. He walked all the way down with me without causing any problems, arguing, stumbling, or debating with me about the evidence of him being too intoxicated. I had a feeling he was saving it for once he was off of our property, and would have said that to a coworker behind me if I could have done so without this guy hearing me. “He’s gonna turn….”
A few of us were walking downstairs behind this guy. And there were a few more security staff at the front door to work the metal detectors, ticket office, and line outside. I always want to clearly mention to the front door staff that this person is leaving us for the evening. Which means we just kicked him out and don’t let him back in for any reason or excuse.
Like I suspected, Mr. compliant and polite was keeping his cool until he was outside. As soon as he cleared our front door he spun around and put up both middle fingers. Double birds! He started yelling all sorts of rudeness to me and my coworkers. Classic insults like, “Fuck you, motherfuckers! Get a real job. I bet you get paid ten bucks an hour to work this shitty job. Suck my dick!”
Now I’m not usually one to further antagonize somebody who is already hostile, but on this particular occasion I couldn’t help myself. I said, “I love my job. I get to kick out people like you.” He unleashed more, “Fuck you, assholes. I could kick all your stupid asses!” I laughed and responded, “OK tough guy, come back then.” He paused his rant and looked perplexed, but his middle fingers remained poised in the air. “Come back.” I raised my hands gesturing to all of the security staff around me. “There’s eight of us! EIGHT.” He would have had to have been Chuck Norris to come back to fight eight bouncers. I’m really not a violent person, but at that point in the night I honestly wanted him to try us just to see how quickly he would’ve been put on the ground. He walked away silently, but kept flipping us all off. I stood outside for a minute or two, just in case he came back. But you know that he didn’t. Which was the wisest choice that he made all night.
On another night we were summoned to the front bar to deal with a drunk male who had been cut off and was making a stink about it. Another bouncer and I stood by for a minute listening to this guy try to argue his way out of being cut off. The cutoff is one hundred percent non-negotiable. Nobody is ever going to miraculously have a change of heart and decide to reverse their decision to cut you off. We were just hanging back to see if the problem would solve itself and he would figure out that leaving was his best option.
Of course he became more belligerent, and my coworker and I quickly agreed to each grab an arm and escort this patron out of the establishment. While grabbing somebody against their will, you tend to focus intensely. He has on a blue denim jacket and blue denim jeans. Belt buckle. Glasses. Country music vibe. I’ll call him ‘denim dude’ from here. He tried to kick out one of my feet as we walked by the stairs, but you can’t really hurt me in my steel toe boots while we have a death grip on your arms. We released him outside and he stumbled away to his hotel room cussing at us. This particular music venue has a hotel right next to it so it’s convenient for people to just get a room for crashing in after the concert ends.
I didn’t expect to see this fool again, since most people would just go back to their room and pass out. And of course, I was wrong about denim dude.
About an hour later, right about closing time, this guy wanders back into the bar while I was elsewhere writing up the report on us grabbing him. My coworker had already gone home and I was now the only security staff on closing shift. Somehow, the bartender that initially cut him off and called us to help wasn’t there. Probably outside handling the garbage and recycling or something. And shockingly, the other bartender was not informed of this guy being cut off and escorted out earlier. So he served him a can of PBR, the drink of cheap drunk champions. Miscommunication, or no communication, is a bitch.
I came around the corner and saw him with a beer heading for the door. I yelled for him to stop, because you cannot leave with any drink. Ever. Oregon is not a state where you can have an alcoholic beverage just walking around the city streets. That violates the open container law. The person walking with a container of beer can get a citation from a police officer. That is a bit unlikely here, but the establishment that sold him a drink after being cut off can also get fined. We’ve been under scrutiny from the O.L.C.C. (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) lately, so we don’t want any more.
I walked next to him and demanded that he give me the drink. He was even more drunk now and tried to ignore me. I can’t believe the other bartender served him after the first bartender cut him off, and we had to manhandle his ass out the front door. I explained that no alcoholic drinks are allowed outside of the building and he ignored me and kept walking towards his hotel room. In hindsight, I could have let this go. The O.L.C.C. likely didn’t have an agent crouched behind some bushes to catch a hotel guest walking around with a can of PBR at 2am. But I’ll be honest, this guy pissed me off. He muttered, “Fuck you, motherfucker.”
So we walked up to his hotel door and I watched him fumble for his key with one hand while holding that goddammed all-important can of PBR with his other hand. I saw my opportunity and took it. Like a ninja from The Matrix using bullet-time, I shot my hand between his two hands and grabbed the can. Instantly crushing that can still in his hand, beer shot up all over his forearm and the ground. I walked away and he tried to throw the now-empty crumpled up can at me, missing me completely. I wished him a good night.
But was my time with denim dude finished for this evening? Hell no it wasn’t. A few minutes later I saw this guy and another figure walking towards me from his hotel room area. I recognized the other person as the hotel staff from next door. I stayed near our doorway because there are cameras outside to catch whatever occurs. I did have the thought that this guy could have grabbed a gun from his hotel room and was now coming to shoot me. I didn’t see anything in his hands, so we were good for now.
He had the audacity to call room service and complain that the bouncer at the bar next door stole his beer. I quickly recapped what actually happened to both denim dude and the hotel staff. “ACTUALLY, what happened was you were cut off and physically escorted out. You came back and got another beer by mistake, and I took it from you. Stop coming back. Just go to your room and sleep it off.”
Here’s where he made everything nasty and personal. He launched into a tirade, the intent of which was obviously to get me to hit him. He got as close to my face as possible and tried to intimidate me. He was so close that I could see his glasses were bifocals. He opened his mouth and I saw that his front teeth were bordering on being buck-toothed. “Boy, I’m old enough to be your Daddy. I ain’t taking any shit from you, you little motherfucker. In fact, I probably am your Daddy. Because I fucked your Momma. In the ass!”
Boy howdy, this drunk yokel sure is trying to rile me up. It took everything I had not to chortle and respond with something argumentative and geeky like, “Human anatomy tells us that it’s pretty unlikely that you would impregnate a woman by ejaculating in her ass. That’s just not how that all works. All those strange words like fertilization, sperm, and ovum can be confusing to the layperson.” Of course, I didn’t say any of that. That would be ridiculous and provoking. But what I did say was this: “Well, Daddy-O, what CAN happen is that the hotel kicks you out of your room. Basically for being an asshole. That would make TWO places you’ve been kicked out of tonight. Then the police come and watch you lug all your shit out of your room onto the street. And you’re on your own. Happens all the time. Isn’t that right?” The bearded hotel staff nodded slowly and solemnly in agreement.
This finally shut the guy up, he didn’t have a comeback for that. I told the hotel staff to notify me if he had any further problems and needed to call the cops on this guy. The three of us walked away in three directions, and I didn’t hear anymore from Denim Daddy-O Motherfucker. But I may have just came up with a great new band name.
Working the stage at live shows has become the main tenet of my security job, and I love it. Handling problems at the stage between the crowd and the performers is now my specialty. When I’m up there I feel like I’m on the shore with the ocean of people pushing up against the sand, and I’m just one hugely outnumbered man trying to keep back the relentless waves of the sweaty tide.
Led Zeppelin sang about performing to the crowd of fans in their 1973 classic, “The Ocean.” Singing to an ocean, I can hear the ocean’s roar Play for free, play for me and play a whole lot more, more Singing about good things and the sun that lights the day I used to sing on the mountains, has the ocean lost its way?
I performed in numerous bands for many years but never really had the experience of being in front of a crowd that was so big that it looked like an ocean of people. But I’ve definitely been in that ocean countless times, and remember being buffeted back and forth with no control over where I was moving. Some of the larger outdoor music concerts where I was a small ripple in a huge ocean of fans included Lollapalooza, Rockfest, Mayhem Festival, Warped Tour, and Lilith Fair (although Lilith Fair was made up of far more forgiving and gentle waters than any other music festival). Some of the larger metal shows felt not so much like I was in an ocean, but trying to survive a tsunami. With meteors. And gladiator fighting.
Some of those mosh pits end up being a bunch of drunken idiots who just want to fight. I am proud to say that I survived some of the gnarliest mosh pits unscathed, including shows from bands like Slayer, Pantera, Metallica, Opeth, Tool, and System of a Down. I prefer to enjoy the shows from farther back now, away from the mayhem. The only time I’m willingly in a mosh pit is if I’m working the show. I might have to forge into the crowd to break up a fight or save somebody who fell and is being trampled. Honestly though, most metal fans are helpers and feel like they are part of a musical brotherhood. If somebody falls or gets hurt, they help the person up and out. Metal fans have also been some of the most polite, appreciative, and helpful patrons at shows. They even will self-police the crowd, doing some of my job for me. They take care of their own, and I actually look forward to working metal shows because that crowd is so awesome.
This metaphor of the audience being an ocean is indeed perfect. Churning, pulsating, and constantly in motion. This ocean of fans constantly presses up against the barricades, and no matter how far back you look, you can’t see the end of it. There seems to be several different waves of movement stemming from people pushing and angling for location. Things can come out of the ocean that can hurt you. That body of water has an undertow that can suck you in if you aren’t careful. Objects that we throw back into the water (like crowd surfers) inevitably come back to us. The beachballs and balloons with lights inside of them surely could be mistaken for the Japanese glass fishing floats or buoys. When a particularly tall coworker of mine works at stage right, I affectionately call him ‘the lighthouse’. The beams of our tactical flashlights shining at someone breaking a rule could appear like beams of light warning ships away from the rocks. When the tour uses confetti cannons or cryo blasts, I usually think of the frothy foamy mist caused by the waves crashing inside the Devil’s Punch Bowl. The thick coiled-up power cables resemble the ropes found on the deck of a commercial fishing vessel, and most of the time the floor is covered in water from spilled drinks. And just like a seaman, you can become mesmerized just staring out into the endless waves, pondering the immense power that gigantic body of water holds. Listen closely for the song of the sirens, and watch out for the rock of Scylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis. If you’ve ever seen a mosh pit where everybody is running in a circle in the same direction, you know exactly what I mean.
I’ve covered catching crowd surfers extensively in other chapters. There is a special feeling of satisfaction when I pull out a young person out who was getting crushed against the barricade and couldn’t take it anymore. I’ll yell at the people surrounding them to all push back together, just to make a couple inches of space so I can grab the kid and lift them up out of the maelstrom. They are so grateful to be given this way out of the heat and push of the crowd. They can suddenly breathe again. It’s akin to pulling a survivor out of a raft who has been floating alone on the ocean for days. Drenched in sweat and dehydrated, their body pushed past their limits, they hug me tightly like I saved their life. I’ll have them drink some water and let them end the hug when they’re ready to. This ocean isn’t to be trifled with or taken for granted.
Crowd surfers certainly aren’t the only things that travel across the surface of this human ocean. Often we’ll get huge beach balls that people try to bounce all around the venue before security takes the ball away. Same thing with balloons. I swore that somebody dosed my water when I saw both a giant banana and a giant hot dog (with ketchup and mustard) bouncing along the eyeline of the crowd way in the back of the hall. These were full-body costumes worn by people who wanted to surf the crowd as food items. But the best one by far was during the show by the group Matt and Kim. They bring about 25 blowup sex dolls backstage and inflate them. I have a photo of our sound engineer nonchalantly looking over at a huge pile of naked plastic bodies laying in the backstage area before the show. His unfazed expression made me think that he had seen way stranger things than this. But then, to make it even weirder, they affix photos of themselves on each blow up doll’s face. Life-size naked inflated clones of themselves. Then they send them out into the crowd to bounce around over the ocean of people. Seeing dozens of naked blow-up dolls crowd surfing was literally one of the most surreal experiences of my career. They were anatomically correct, of course, so drunken patrons would grab the female doll by her breasts and crotch. If they could get two female dolls together they would make them scissor. And the male doll was primarily grabbed by the penis. I’ve never seen so many male forms get thrown across a room by their penis before. There had to be some wish-fulfillment happening there. It humbled me, and disturbed me. Everybody wanted to keep a blowup doll as a souvenir of the concert, so many of the dolls didn’t return. Some, I shudder to think, lost their plastic virginity later that night when people took them home. Matt and Kim must have one hell of a deal with a distributor of blow-up sex dolls, because they must go through 15 or more of them every show. They definitely are buying in bulk. That’s an interesting line item of their tour budget: SEX DOLL REPLENISHMENT. If they ever cancel a show ‘due to illness’, I’d bet you cash money that it was because they ran out of sex dolls that night.
The ships that we see far across the horizon of this bizarre sea are not mysterious schooners or frigates, instead they are blinky balls, life-sized hot dogs, and sex dolls. I hope to sail this ocean forever, but I think that I’m gonna need a bigger boat.