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Courtesy of The New York Times

September 14, 2016

GOLDFINE | Views From The Edge of the Mosh Pit: Making Peace with Periphery

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For about a day now I’ve been entertaining writing an article about moshing: Some kind of article-y feminist critique of or spatial-political inquiry into the act of a kinetic mass of bodies violently jumping up and down, and deliberately slamming into each other. “Mosh pits! What an Interesting Phenomenon,” I thought. “Wow! What a good column topic! Very Fraught! Many layered social and gender politics there!”

But I have never been in a mosh pit. So, to avoid that particular brand of cutesy ignorance and pedantic pathologizing of a culture I don’t participate in, I’ll leave the space of a column about moshing to someone/anyone who a.) semi-regularly inhabits mosh pits and b.) engages a perspective somewhere in the vast space between the belief that moshing is the salvation from the crippling boredom of the postmodern condition (depressed kids don’t need Prozac, just a good, healthy mosh) and that it’s a feminist nightmare and girls who like to mosh are like girls who like to give blow-jobs (a statement constituting an actual feminist nightmare).

I do, however, have a body, which has been at some punk shows; although I’ve never quite figured out what to do with it or how to inhabit it there. As I mentioned, I don’t know much about mosh pits but I’m pretty intimate with their sides, corners and edges. So, I can write a column about the feelings and sights that collect and breed in those cobwebbed crevices between the mosh-pit and the basement wall. For most of my show-going life, I have felt massively self-conscious in show-spaces, an anxiety that has had a serious rivalry with my deep enjoyment of live music.

What to cover my body in? Agonizing. It has felt like no amount of black or floral or corduroy or denim, no pair of clogs or combat boots could melt me comfortably into the crowd. My body, even tucked in those dark corners, felt too big and too boring, not angled enough, my haircut too typical, my modest nose piercing, corny, the hands in my pockets, transparent and performative.

The dancing always particularly mystified me. Moshing might not be a feminist nightmare, but it is one of mine: To be shoved, elbowed and bashed around by a bunch of strangers in a ritualistic act of consensual violence, all under a deafening wall of noise. When you are standing on the side of a mosh-pit, options for movement are pretty limited (your spatial awareness working double-time to make up for all the people around you having deliberately abdicated theirs). Non-moshing possibilities include stationary lurching, hands-in-pockets while head-bobbing, foot-tapping, limp-arm-pumping, phone-checking-but-not-too-much (very hard to pull off), a kind of hip-patting as a more apathetic clapping alternative, jumping up and down in one place and putting your arm around a friend and lurching (not very cool at all, but one of the most redeeming, I think). I’ve yet to really nail down a scene-acceptable, physically and emotionally satisfying dance style that is fun, but won’t accidentally send me headlong into a mosh pit.

The most occupying thing about the view from the edge of the mosh pit is the lurking feeling like I’m not really there at all. Dislodged from the dominant experience and memory of the show and the night; as passive as the walls or furniture, looking in from the outside, spectating the spectators. Peripheral and incidental, not instrumental to the event or to the scene, but still not anonymous; still subject to the scene’s gaze and judgment. Maybe the moshers think of themselves the way I imagine; a part of something authentic and unshareable and superior. Or maybe at the heart of all of this is a fragile, non-moshing china doll of an ego that is irked not to be the center of attention.

What I do know is that the edge of the mosh pit is a fertile grounds for an uncomfortable collision of a slew of personal insecurities and looming social pressures, to which I am keenly attuned. Figuring out how to dress, move, and occupy my body is challenging on a daily basis, a conundrum almost comically exaggerated under the dim lights of a house show, where I feel hypervisible, and yet unseen.

I wanted to write a column about moshing. But what I really wanted to write about was not moshing; and the way periphery and illegibility can feel; and the mess of loving and hating one experience so deeply. As I go to more shows and spend more time on the edges of mosh pits, I learn and forget and relearn again, a little more firmly every time I walk into a dirty basement, that there is no one way to go to a show. Maybe you’re lucky, and it never occurred to you that there was. But if you’re like me, concerts are about discomfort and performance; but also about being affected together by sound. That might look and feel like a mosh pit, or like the corner of the basement. Being in these spaces doesn’t come naturally or elegantly or cooly to all of us. I guess existing has a learning curve, especially at punk shows.

Note: (If this wasn’t helpful or comforting; this is probably your best bet. Good luck.)

Jael Goldfine is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jog8@cornell.edu. 

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