A Brief Catechism of Rock Shows, Part I

When it comes to rock shows, there are many guidelines to be followed, and some fans do so with a religious fervor. Hear the word of the rock gods and know the truth.

Credit: Leslie Harpold

Q. Who made these rules?

A. Experience and common sense made these rules. You may not know some of them because you lack one or the other.

Q. Who can rock?

A. In most cases, anyone with the twelve dollars to get in the door can rock. This does not mean just because you feel the frat boy next to you lacks the depth and sensitivity to appreciate Ben Kweller’s tortured soul, or the drunk chick attending with her three identically dressed friends who collectively only know one Ethyline song because it was once on Dawson’s Creek (while naturally you were into Sludgeworth back when you were 15) that they have any less right to be in attendance than you. Yes, even that old creepy guy in the back with the out-of-style leather jacket with the bald-guy ponytail has a right to be there, and to rock in his own little way. Save those sideways glances for your elected officials, kids, everyone will be better off if you just ignore them and concentrate on making your experience as pleasant as it can be. If ‘pleasant’ for you means ‘mocking others,’ then perhaps you should seek counseling, as this is not a trait that will serve you well in any situation, but that’s another issue altogether. Remember, and this will need repeating over and over through these lessons: You are there to have fun. Everyone is there to have fun. Fun is something that makes people happy. Remember the happy bit, as it becomes crucial later in the rules.

Q. What is a rock show?

A. A rock show is any event where live music is played by the people who write it. Under this classification, bubblegum-pop acts and wedding bands who play in local bars are immediately disqualified from staging what we will call ‘rock shows,’ and the rules do not always apply at those type of events that, for many reasons, both attract a lot of underage girls. The principal is not always reflexive—Rap shows are almost always rock shows, but rock shows are rarely rap shows. If the only person on stage is a DJ—even if that DJ is Fatboy Slim, and a mosh pit is forming—you are at a Disco.

Q. Should I rock in the body or in the soul?

A. Rock lives chiefly in your soul, but if you take your body along it will be forever grateful. It is a bittersweet pill to be reminded that the circa-1991 ‘scene’ in Seattle has ended, but it must be said loudly and with great clarity: You should dance at shows, or at least sway, or pump your fist in the air, or show some sign that you are alive other than shifting your weight from one foot to the other while artfully holding a beer. The days of hipper-than-thou have mercifully passed and it is not only okay, it is downright polite to show the band you appreciate their performance by acting as if you are alive. If this sounds patently obvious to you, I would guess you’ve attended precious few rock shows, or merely followed Pennywise on tour, because I have been at shows where the audience was so busy posing I could have sworn I was in a warehouse full of mannequins. The days of standing still are over. Shake your moneymaker. The band will be forever grateful, and guess what? If they find a responsive audience in your town, they will go out of their way to return.

That said, learn to dance politely. Draw a circle the size of a basketball on your floor and learn to contain your enthusiasm to that area. Pay particular attention to where your elbows go.

Q. How does moshing fit in?

A. If you’re the type who’s both brave and craves extra action, you may want to head into the mosh pit. It is here that there are extra things to be mindful of, many of which should be common sense but are often overlooked. If someone falls, help them up immediately. Girls: Make sure your hair is up and you are well-covered, and I mean more than a tank top. If a female is being passed over the crowd, do not use this as an opportunity touch any of her lady parts. Wear deodorant. If you see someone about to stage-dive, even if that person kicked you in the shin during the last song, catch him. If he dies or even bleeds, the show will not only end but your conscience will torment you forever. No glasses or hats. Ten minutes in, ten minutes out—don’t be a pit-hog. And above all else—never ever put someone in the pit who doesn’t want to be there. (The subtle differences between skanking, moshing, and slam-dancing will be covered in future lessons.)

Q. Why must people mosh?

A. The road to paradise is different for everyone.

Q. Of which must we take more care: hair or clothing?

A. We must take more care of our soul than of our body. Let your inner light shine. You will likely leave sweaty, which will compromise both your hair and clothing, so make sure you’re clean when you arrive, as a courtesy to others there. If you have to watch one over the other, the only thing that won’t come out of hair is gum, while clothing can be more temperamental. Beer is easy to wash out, so it’s recommended that you only consume lagers or clear mixed drinks and sodas at shows because when you’re jostled, it’s less likely you will ruin someone’s evening by staining their favorite ratty T-shirt. Leave silk, cashmere, suede, and anything you can’t live without in your wardrobe at home. No one will remember what you wore anyway; no matter how cute you are, they came to see the band, not your getup.

Q. What about accessories?

A. Leave them at home. This also includes your personal electronics. You may not use your cell phone, unless you’re playing the show as a representative of the Make-a-Wish Foundation for a sick child who lives in a bubble and cannot attend performances. It is crass to post to your website while attending a show, even between sets or from the bathroom. You may not pull out your Hiptop and IM your pal across the room to get you another beer, as handy as that might seem at the time. Rock shows are all about the corporeal pleasures, so for your own enjoyment and the pleasure of those around you, stay present mentally and physically in the moment.

Q. Can rock and roll still save our souls?

A. To save our souls we must make rock the offering of faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in It, hope in It, and love It with all our heart and body.

Q. How shall we know the things which we are to believe?

A. We shall know the things which we are to believe from The Morning News through which Leslie speaks to us.

Q. Where shall we find the chief truths which The Morning News teaches?

A. We shall find the chief truths which The Morning News teaches in small and midsize venues around the world.

Q. Say the Rock Show Attendee’s Creed.

A. I believe in Iggy, Jimi, Chryssie, and Joe Strummer, the Parents Almighty, Creator of heaven on earth; I believe in Malcolm McClaren and Sid Vicious, His only Son. I believe in punk, lo-fi and gangsta, indie, post-punk, indie-pop, rock, singer-songwriter, and insurgent country, conceived by Uncle Tupelo, born of Jeff Tweedy who suffers, as does Lou Barlow. I believe in Squirrelbait and Johnny Cash. I believe in the Motor City. I will respectfully love and fear Tad. I believe in Superchunk and PJ Harvey. I believe in new bands and will never pretend to know music I have never heard, so my mind may stay open and I will sitteth at the right hand of Mission of Burma so I may one day ascend to heaven, where I will be greeted by Sonic Youth, Eazy-E, and Mike Watt. I will not listen to rock critics, but trust my own ears. I believe in DIY, zines, Yo La Tengo, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of Cobain, and rock everlasting. Amen.

Very loosely based on the Baltimore Catechism.


TMN Contributing Writer Leslie Harpold was a pioneer in web design and online publishing. At the time of her death in 2006, she lived in Grosse Pointe, Mich., where she was working on a novel and “dreaming alternately of an ├╝ber-urban or ultra-rural future, as she is not one to do things by halves.” More by Leslie Harpold