Nothing screams summertime quite like an all-American rock ’n’ roll concert. I’ll never forget my earliest concerts in Detroit. Many a fun night was had at Cobo Arena, absorbing the sights and aromas that are so bright and exciting in one’s youth.
One standout show was undoubtedly in 1981, the first occasion I experienced David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. It was on the July Fourth weekend. To this day I remain a fan of that era of the band — the true Van Halen. David Lee Roth is the perfect embodiment of the flamboyant, front man/jester who is sadly absent from rock ’n’ roll today.
I was excited when the recent opportunity arose to interview Roth prior to his upcoming Motown appearance. I paced nervously with notes in hand, his new album, Diamond Dave, playing in the background, on the day of his scheduled call. But after sleeping through his 8:30 a.m. call from the West Coast and missing a second call as I was showering for a Friday night out, I was left only with a couple answering machine messages: “Hey, Ricky, it’s Diamond Dave trying to catch up with ya. Maybe I’ll try you back in 15 minutes or so.”
But it was not to be. In the end, I had to settle for passes to the local show and my rightful place as a fan enjoying it from afar.
It seemed ideal — David Lee Roth on the July Fourth weekend at Freedom Hill, with some friends, a few frosty beers, hearing such classics as “Dance the Night Away” and “Ice Cream Man.” Roth finished up his set with “Jump,” and my friends and I finished up by getting jumped.
So much for a pleasant summer evening.
We were in the parking lot, minutes from driving happily home when out of nowhere, this guy staggers up to us, all crazy-eyed, and starts belching “faggot” in our faces, and giving us a tough time about the way we looked. My friend and I don’t look normal by any means (we do both have long hair), but it’s not like we have 8-inch Mohawks and faces full of piercings either. (Not that that’s bad.) We’ve both grown accustomed to stares and occasional shouts of, “Hey, it’s Ozzy,” from the typical cell-phone-toting brown-baggy-shorts crowd. (Especially in bulky public gatherings that are excessive in alcohol content and short on brain cells.)
This instance, though, caught us off guard, as the fellow in question had hair as long or longer then ours. We thought he was joking at first, but once we realized he was violently irritated with us for whatever reason, we tried to defuse the situation. We were most concerned for our girlfriends, as this guy made it pretty obvious that he wasn’t opposed to thumping them either.
I’ll spare you the gruesome details. Suffice it to say that before we knew it, my buddy and I were being battered — one punch sent me flying. I was hearing more screeching notes then in an Eddie Van Halen solo. Then came that slow-motion haze that always accompanies an ugly event. I remember my girlfriend screaming for me to get up off the ground and get in the car. Our assailant was approaching again, but we made it safely into the car and sped away.
Coming across some police nearby, we decided to pull over and explain what had just happened to us. While the police went to confront our attacker, whom they arrested on an outstanding warrant (Why am I not surprised?), we took stock of the damage. The right side of my face was puffing up black and blue around a broad cut that gushed blood; my friend sat on the hood of the car nursing a bloody ear. Some nice folks gave us some ice.
The fun that had enveloped us vanished in an adrenaline rush of fear as we tried to recover. And while the physical mess will hopefully wear off soon enough, the mental trauma will continue for sometime to come. What this bozo did was a hate crime. He didn’t like the way we looked, and he expressed that to us repeatedly.
It makes me wonder. If long-haired rock ’n’ rollers aren’t safe at a David Lee Roth show, then where the hell can they go for an enjoyable, peaceful night out?
The majority of people go to concerts to have fun. But there are always a few whose sole purpose (so it seems) is to wreck things for everyone.
Unlike the souvenirs I took home from my first Roth encounter back in 1981 (a tour book and T-shirt), this time I had to settle for a black eye, a crooked jaw and a messed-up state of mind.
Where have all the good times gone?Ricky Phillips is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org